The long-anticipated launch of a 160-seat CSeries has placed Bombardier in some rarified company. As of last week, Airbus and Boeing can no longer claim a duopoly in the market segment occupied by the A319 and 737-700. In fact, with its order for ten 148-seat-configured CS300s from Latvia’s AirBaltic, Bombardier has now officially outsold Boeing’s re-engined 737 Max 7, which hasn’t yet drawn enough customer interest to warrant an industrial launch.
Meanwhile, the smallest member of Airbus’s family of re-engined narrowbodies, the A319neo, hasn’t fared much better than its Boeing counterpart, at last count drawing announced firm orders for 26 examples from two customers. As the firm order count for the Neo family approaches 2,000 units, one might reach a fairly simple conclusion: The demand for narrowbodies, at least those built by Boeing and Airbus, has shifted away from the lower capacity ranges and toward those seating closer to between 180 and 200 passengers.
So what does that mean for Bombardier? Perhaps it opens an opportunity in a niche until now virtually everyone considered a sort of no-man’s land. If, as Bombardier claims, the 160-seat CSeries can operate at the same seat-mile cost as a 180-seat Boeing Max or Airbus Neo, it might well have found itself a comfortable position where no third player has dared tread before.
Although Bombardier has yet to definitively prove the business case for its “high-density” CSeries, things seem headed in the right direction. If nothing else, a 160-seat CS300 offers airlines a unique piece of equipment for a segment toward which Boeing and Airbus must feel somewhat ambivalent by now.