After getting off to a rocky start, Bombardier’s C-Series jets are uniquely positioned to become the next big thing in aviation. That is, if they do not incite an international trade war first.
Last spring, Boeing accused plane maker Bombardier of receiving financial backing from the government of Canada that helped it maintain the struggling C-Series program. Boeing filed suit against Bombardier, accusing them of then selling the aircraft to Delta Airlines for “absurdly low prices” which Boeing said unfairly penalized their own 737 program.
Bombardier, of course, denied those claims, stating that large discounts are extremely common in the aerospace industry. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that he believed Boeing “is pursuing unfair and aggressive trade action against the Canadian aerospace sector.”
In defense, a spokesperson told CNNMoney, “We like competition. It makes us better. And Bombardier can sell its aircraft anywhere in the world. But competition and sales must respect globally-accepted trade law.” Delta called the case “without merit.”
Meantime, in September, the U.S. government backed Boeing in the lawsuit and recommended a huge tariff on each C-Series delivery into the country. After the tariffs were announced, in an unexpected move that resembles players in a chess game, Airbus swooped in and acquired a majority stake in the C-Series program, moving manufacturing to its plant in Alabama and moving the plane front and center in Boeing’s woes over worldwide aircraft sales.
The C-Series controversy is having a ripple effect. Canadian and U.K. leaders threatened to scrap a deal with the Royal Canadian Air Force for Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters worth $5.2 billion if the case wasn’t dropped. The issues also raised unemployment concerns in Ireland. The C-Series’ wings are manufactured at a plant in Belfast which employs over 1,000 people.
Even from the early days, the C-Series program was beset with problems. The first planes were supposed to be rolled out in 2013 but the complexity of the brand-new aircraft led to a three-year delay in its market introduction and sent the manufacturing program billions of dollars over budget.
Is the C-Series Worth All the Fuss? Here Are 6 Reasons Why We Think So…
The C-Series jets may be worth the fuss for passengers and operators for several reasons. The airplanes are roomy, quiet, fuel efficient, and technologically advanced. The benefits of flying the new C-Series include:
1. A roomy cabin
The jet’s cabin is roomy and comfortable. It has 110 seats, a wider aisle, large overhead bins, and bigger windows. Passengers can stretch out, enjoy the view, and there is still plenty of room for the beverage cart to pass by. There are about half the number of middle seats when compared to larger planes and those seats are wider by an inch.
2. Lightweight construction
Bombardier has introduced new technology, making the wing skins with a technique using liquid infusion inside an autoclave that creates panels that are lighter than metal. The fuselage is manufactured using lightweight aluminum-lithium alloy.
3. Geared turbofan engines offer next-gen performance
The C-series features Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan. It improves fuel efficiency by using the gear to disconnect the rotation speeds of the fan and low pressure turbine, widening the fan diameter and doubling the bypass ratio. This means that the C-Series has an engine with lower maintenance costs and better fuel efficiency.
4. Amazing efficiency from a sleek, modern design
The new airframe and state-of-the-art engine technology deliver a 20% fuel burn advantage over other aircraft in the same class. According to the Bombardier website, the C-Series burns only 2 liters of jet fuel per 100 kilometers per passenger. The savings rank high in importance to carriers, since fuel costs are their number one variable. While Airbus and Boeing have modernized jets, they both lack a clean sheet design that the C-Series offers.
5. Advantages of scale thanks to Airbus
With the existing partnership between the two, Bombardier has access to Airbus’ substantial product and sales support infrastructure. Bombardier also gains access to Airbus’ manufacturing base and substantial supply chain.
6. Long Legs To Connect New Markets
These new planes can make domestic tertiary markets viable, which is similar to what the 787 did for international markets. Longer range jets make more connections feasible. These secondary routes would eliminate the number of connections for passengers and provide a direct route to their secondary market destinations. The C-Series offers the ability to connect disparate small to medium size markets like never before.
Some historical parallels between the C-Series And The MD-80
This past year’s developments in the Bombardier program are similar the the MD-80’s challenges thirty years ago. Like the C-Series, the MD-80 program was teetering on the brink of disaster in 1982, when McDonnell Douglas made a deal to lease twenty MD-80s to American at a super-heavy discount. American then went on to commit to 67 orders and 100 options in 1984, and as of 2002, was flying more than 360 MD-80s.
American Airlines’ success with the MD-80 brought attention to the struggling series. Other airlines started buying the planes once they knew that the MD-80 was selling. Alirlines like Alaska Airlines, Aeroméxico, China Eastern Airlines, China Northern Airlines, US Airways and Delta all ordered the MD-80. Many other airlines also purchased the stretched DC-9. American only recently announced that it will be retiring all its MD-80s by the year 2019. American will replace the ‘mad dogs’ with the 737-800 and -8 MAX.
Will Bombardier’s C-Series actually meet with the same success as the MD-80 or will international trade wars prevent it from reaching its potential? It has a fighting chance thanks to the boost provided by Airbus and Delta. With Boeing’s accusations hanging in the air, only time will tell.