Chances are if you’ve flown within Canada & the U.S. on a flight under 2 hours in the past 2 decades it’s been on a Bombardier regional jet as the company has dominated that segment of the aviation market but after a few false starts decided eight years ago to design & build larger, longer range aircraft, a decision that’s pushed the Canadian firm to the very edge of bankruptcy due to cost overruns, production delays and few firm advance orders.
Known as the C series, the new aircraft model was aimed at the segment of the aviation market between the 50-seat regional jets and the much larger Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 which can transport up to 200 passengers each depending upon the configuration. The design of the aircraft and its lighter weight carbon fibre construction enables the C series to be more technologically advanced while costing less to fly, a key selling feature as fuel costs are often an airline’s largest operating expense. Beyond its technical capabilities the new model is also more user-friendly from a passenger perspective as it offers larger overhead bins, larger windows, more headspace and an overall quieter ride.
Despite being a so-called ‘game changer’ for both airlines and passengers Bombardier is two-and-a-half years late delivering the first aircraft to its airline launch partner Swiss International Airlines, a delay that’s given Boeing and Airbus time to sow doubt among airlines and scoop up sales on deeply discounted larger aircraft they manufacture. More than $5 billion dollars has been spent on research & development and aircraft construction which added to the $6.5 billion Bombardier has lost over the past two years pushed it to the bring of bankruptcy and reportedly only a $3.3 billion dollar aid package from the province of Quebec and another $1 billion coming from the federal government have been able to keep the firm afloat. That injection of funds by the current government in Ottawa means that every Canadian taxpayer has become invested in the C series whether they like it or even realise it or not but the political and economic fall-out of letting Bombardier fail was likely something neither level of government was willing to contemplate.
There are however a few things that will work in Bombardier’s favor as both Boeing and Airbus suffered lengthy delays in bringing new models to market but once in service confidence was buoyed and orders climbed. Air Canada has finalized an order for at least 45 C series jets and it was reported in the Financial Post in recent days that Bombardier is confident more orders will be announced later this year which should help to revive the company’s stock price which fell below $1 per share earlier this year before rebounding upward since. Profits aren’t expected until 2020 and paying off the$9 billion dollar mountain of debt will take Bombardier some time even with a highly successful C series reception but the dark clouds that have hung over the program may finally be lifting as the aircraft takes to the skies.
There is an early review of the plane’s creature comforts in this Financial Post article or open the video link below for a closer look at the inaugural Swiss flight of Bombardier’s C series jet.