Belfast Telegraph

Bombardier seek new investors as CSeries hits turbulence

Mitsubishi 'among potential saviours'

By Margaret Canning and John Mulgrew

Bombardier is talking to other potential investors who could yet come to the aid of the aerospace firm’s ambitious CSeries project, an aviation expert has said.

 Bombardier has previously joined forces with Chinese firm COMAC to work on its C919 craft after signing an agreement in 2012.

 Canadian company Bombardier took on the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus with its CSeries jet, the wings of which are made in Belfast.

 But orders have been slower than anticipated, putting financial pressure on the company, which employs 5,500 people in Northern Ireland.

 That has led it to seek investors — though this week it emerged that talks with arch-rival Airbus, the manufacturer favoured by easyJet, had ended in Airbus walking away.

 Craig West, the editor of Airliner World, said one problem was that the CSeries was pitched at the lower-end of the single-aisle passenger jet market, with its 120 to 150 seats, at a time when airlines were favouring larger capacity craft with 150 seats, such as the Airbus 1319.

 Mr West said: “Bombardier actually partnered up with Chinese firm COMAC to help develop its similar but bigger C919, which will have 160-180 seats. 

“The two signed a definitive agreement in 2012. However, I suspect it’s unlikely COMAC would be capable or indeed willing to bail out the C Series programme.

“My understanding is that Bombardier is still talking to other parties.  But who would have the money to help Bombardier, I really don’t know.”

Mr West said the project was aiming to bridge a gap between the regional jet, such as the CRJ already made by Bombardier — and the Airbus, and that the plan could yet succeed. 

“I don’t think this is the end of the project.” But he said he believed the firm may have “dropped the ball” on other products such as the Q400 turbo-prop and the CRJ regional aircraft, with sales of both falling.

 Northern Ireland aviation expert Guy Warner said Bombardier was a highly respected firm which had proved its abilities in both turbo-props and business jets — but that the CSeries, as a single-aisle passenger jet, was new territory.

 The CSeries has attracted 243 orders, mainly from smaller airlines. Mr Warner said Bombardier may need to attract a big customer to make the venture worth the risk.

“A design has to be more efficient than Boeing, more efficient than Airbus and that will give airlines greater profitability. What Bombardier needs is someone like one of the big-budget airlines to buy 100 of its CSeries airlines that will make sense for the airline on a cost-per-unit basis.”

But Bombardier said: “We will neither comment nor speculate on the potential outcomes of commercial discussions. Belfast continues to play a major role in the CSeries programme.”

Mr Warner said that there may be nothing technically wrong with the CSeries, but that the world’s biggest airlines were yet to be convinced that it could offer anything not already on the table from Boeing and Airbus. 

 Bombardier’s CSeries project is the biggest ever inward investment into Northern Ireland and is worth £520m.

 The Belfast workforce was entrusted with the design and manufacture of the craft’s wings, with 800 staff to work on the project at peak production.

 But it is understood that only 300 or so are currently engaged in CSeries work. 

 Last week it was reported that the company could sell a stake in any part of the business, including its major rail operation, in order to shore up the CSeries plan.

 The jets are already three years overdue, and more than £1bn over budget. Both the CS100 and larger CS300 planes are now due to come into service next year.

Belfast Telegraph