Bombardier secured a letter of intent from Egyptair covering 24 C Series CS300 narrobodies at the Dubai Airshow Tuesday, less than a month after Airbus announced its intention to take a majority stake in the program. The contract stipulates an eventual firm order for 12 airplanes worth $1.1 billion and purchase rights on another 12. With the commitment, Egyptair becomes Bombardier’s second C Series customer in the Middle East, a market where it historically has struggled to place its CRJ regional jets and Q400 turboprops.
Appearing with Egyptair chairman and CEO Safwat Musallam, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Fred Cromer said he hoped to conclude the firm order by the end of the year. He also reported that Bombardier would deliver the airplanes from its factory in Mirabel, Canada. If the Airbus acquisition passes antitrust scrutiny early next year, the European manufacturer would establish a second C Series assembly line at its U.S. A320 facility in Mobile, Alabama.
Egyptair would not reveal delivery schedules, but Musallem reported that the airplanes would fly with the company’s Egyptair Express unit and eventually serve as replacements for some small narrowbodies at the mainline.
“We selected the C Series because its excellent range will allow us to best serve domestic and regional destinations, including neighboring Arab cities, the Middle East and several European destinations,” said the Egyptair boss. “We look forward to expanding our network with the CS300 and we are happy to see that the partnership announced with Airbus will bring added support to the C Series program.”
Despite his reference to Airbus, Musallem added that the European airframer’s involvement in the program did not influence the decision to order the airplanes.
In service with Swiss International Airlines and Latvia’s Air Baltic, which together had taken 19 airplanes as of early this month, the C Series next will enter the fleet of Korean Airlines by year-end. Its other 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,” Bombardier Commercial Aircraft senior vice president Colin Bole told AIN ahead of the show. 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.
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.