Once they start rolling out of a final assembly plant in Quebec in 2013, Bombardier’s 110- to 130-seat CSeries regional jets will pit the Montreal aerospace firm against heavyweights Boeing and Airbus for the first time. But Airbus, at least, signalled this week that it doesn’t plan to let Bombardier simply walk in and steal its big customers. The European plane-maker said it’s planning to equip its smaller A320 aircraft—the one that Bombardier’s CSeries will compete against—with newer, more fuel-efficient turbofan engines (Boeing is expected to hold out until its 737s are redesigned). The move appears designed to blunt part of the CSeries’ projected 15 per cent cost advantages over its competitors.
Bombardier has so far downplayed the significance of Airbus’s announcement, noting the $3.4-billion CSeries project has created an all-new aircraft design incorporating lighter, composite materials—in other words, a package deal. “We have a game-changing product and economics that will be in service well before any re-engined competitor arrives to market,” says spokesman John Arnone. But with just three customers so far and firm orders for 90 planes on the books, the challenge for Bombardier remains convincing cash-strapped airlines to open their wallets.