Belfast Telegraph

Feelgood factor over a quality product, but sales must now match the hype


Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

It appeared first with a glint in the blue sky as a helicopter hovered overhead and music bellowed through elaborate rigging.

Then the A220 roared past us, to whoops and applause.

Stood on the runway in the blistering heat, we were supposed to be excited.

And, in truth, two hours of hype had mostly worked.

Between the dozens of Airbus staff and the enthusiasm of the world's aviation Press, the sense of occasion was palpable.

It was easy to forget the troubled history of the C Series, the legal hurdles in the US, the disappointing output numbers and the spectre of Brexit looming ahead.

Lucky, then, that there were journalists present - not intent on spoiling the party, but keen to bring a sense of sobriety to proceedings.

However, the senior figures of the C Series Aircraft Limited Partnership weren't keen to dwell on negativity.

Enquiries over the rumoured cancellation of Gulf Air's order for 10 planes were nipped in the bud with "no comment" responses.

Brexit wasn't dwelt upon, and the panel of senior figures on the top table shifted uncomfortably when straight questions were put about the scale of their optimism as regards the size of the market for small aircraft.

Their job yesterday was to talk up the prospects of the rebranded A220. To be fair, it wasn't very difficult because aside from all the baggage, the C Series/A220 is a very good product. Aviation analysts from around the world are agreed on that.

For Airbus the celebration is understandable.

It got an amazing plane for next to nothing, plugging a hole in its catalogue for medium range aircraft in the 100-150 passenger range.

Spacious, comfortable, quiet and fuel efficient, the A220 has plenty going for it. Its problems lie in the cost and speed of production. For Airbus, tightening costs is top of their to-do list. The European aerospace manufacturer believes it can and will turn the expensive A220 into a profitable product.

Another problem will be convincing customers that the A220 is the solution for them.

The marketing drive is already under way of course, with a change in name the opening shot in a massive new campaign. A slickly produced promotional video thundered before the gathered media, announcing 'A world to be conquered'.

Unfortunately for Airbus and Bombardier, that world is about to get more competitive. Just last week Airbus' main rival Boeing announced a provisional agreement with Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.

The deal is considered Boeing's response to the C Series partnership, offering the US company access to the South American firm's feted E-jet series, which includes the E2, a rival for the A220.

Publicly, Airbus has greeted the announcement with near bemusement. In truth, the deal shows Airbus that it's on to something with the A220. However, the clock is ticking.

With a backlog of 384 A220 orders to be filled, the Airbus and Bombardier partnership has a year's head start on Boeing to get production moving. Should they cut costs, speed up production and market the aircraft effectively, it will secure thousands of jobs worldwide - including those at Bombardier's Belfast plant.

Belfast Telegraph