Bombardier has gone to great lengths to market the C Series as a small narrowbody airliner rather than a regional jet, and for good reason. In the Middle East, where for various reasons RJs historically have experienced trouble gaining a foothold, that message carries particular resonance. Not only have GE CF-34-powered regional jets suffered from a reputation for poor reliability due to the effects of the harsh natural environment, somewhat negative passenger perceptions of such small airplanes rightly or wrongly still prevail in the region. As a result, Bombardier takes special care to market the airplane as a mainline jet, and highlight the comfort of its relatively spacious five-seat-abreast cabin.
Airbus, too, since it agreed last month to take a 50.01 percent stake in the C Series program, expounds the airplane’s comfort virtues, calling it an ideal complement to the A320 family. In fact, in an interview with AIN just ahead of the show, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft senior vice president Colin Bole noted that he has yet to encounter an airline that did not welcome Airbus’s involvement in the C Series, including potential customers in the Middle East. But while the C Series undoubtedly benefits from Airbus’s strong market position and extensive support network in the region, Bole insisted that the airplane will stand on its own merits.
“Within the Middle East, I have had some contact, and the feedback there [concerning Airbus’s involvement] is very consistent, very positive,” explained Bole. “Airbus has a very strong position in the Middle East; it’s probably one of their stronger regions. For sure it will be helpful to have the support of Airbus in that region...[But] the aircraft sells itself to a large extent. I don’t think the fact that it has an Airbus stamp on it versus a Bombardier stamp will make the aircraft more valuable in its own right. I don’t think [it] fundamentally changes the landscape in terms of who in the region is interested in the C Series.”
Bombardier’s 20-year market outlook, released in September, shows a Middle East demand for 450 airplanes in the 60- to 150-seat category out of a global total of 12,550. Long considered a market dominated by widebodies and large narrowbodies, the Middle East will see more penetration by smaller narrowbodies as carriers begin to re-examine and re-balance their fleet mixes in reaction to geopolitical pressures on their long-range widebody services, according to the report.
“There are a lot of routes that are either not developed at this stage or require further development and where perhaps some frequency increases could be very desirable, and I think in that respect we have a very good shot,” Bole said about the C Series’s prospects in the region.
Appeal in Middle East Market
In service with Swiss International Airlines and Latvia’s Air Baltic, which together had taken 19 airplanes as of early November, the C Series next will enter the fleet of Korean Airlines by year-end. Its one Middle Eastern customer—Iraqi Airways—holds a firm order for five CS300s and options on another 11. More interest has come from airlines in the Levant, northern and eastern Africa and even the Gulf region, where Bombardier has resumed discussions with Qatar Airways after airline CEO Akbar Al Baker expressed interest in the C Series several years ago, but later suspended talks.
“We still have some work to do to penetrate other areas such as Saudi Arabia, but generally speaking it is an aircraft that has appeal throughout the region,” said Bole. Relatively small markets, as well, could find the C Series’s range useful to reach places such as Europe, he added. “Those countries, they require range to reach some of the European destinations, they require performance, yet they’re not always countries that have significant aircraft size requirements,” explained Bole. Bombardier can point to Air Baltic as a good example of an airline making use of that kind of application; the Latvian carrier on October 29 began a six-hour service between Riga and Abu Dhabi with one of its 145-seat CS300s. “We have the takeoff performance and the range of the larger single-aisles, yet we have capacity and economics that are typically better even than the current single-aisle aircraft,” he noted.
Again, Bole emphasized the C Series occupies a class outside the Embraer E190 and E195, which he characterized as regional jets. Embraer would disagree, arguing the four-seat-abreast E195 can seat as many passengers as the five-abreast CS100. Still, Bombardier insists the range and the cabin configuration of the C Series places it in a category of its own. “The C Series is a mainline aircraft,” said Bole. “It happens to be five-abreast [as opposed to the six-abreast A320 and 737 families]. But it has all the look and feel of a mainline, single-aisle aircraft, and that’s where I think we differentiate ourselves from the E190 or 195, which in our opinion are truly regional jet aircraft. And that type is just not broadly accepted in the region. You’ve seen E-Jets go in and come out at a number of airlines in that part of the world.”
Part of the reason has involved reliability deficiencies due to the harsh environment in the Middle East, where the airplanes tend to fly more regional routes—and whose engines therefore suffer more exposure to sand and debris—than widebodies, for example. Both the upcoming E2 E-Jets from Embraer and the C Series feature Pratt & Whitney PW1000G-family geared turbofans, whose bigger fan cases and higher bypass ratios promise more ability to withstand such elements, conceded Bole.
“Certainly the larger engines help,” he said. “Whenever you’ve got foreign objects, dust and sand, having the higher bypass ratios and those big fans that are spinning the sand and the dust outward and not through the core of the engine; that is extremely beneficial...I would definitely concur that the GTF engine by design is going to behave and perform very significantly better [than the CF-34] in that region.”