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The decision by Airbus to acquire a majority stake in the Bombardier C-Series in 2017 could prove to be one of the European aerospace giant’s most astute business decisions.
Christian Scherer, chief commercial officer, certainly suggested as much today when the issue was broached by Skies during a virtual media briefing from Airbus’s headquarters in Toulouse, France.
“It’s a very beneficial addition . . . at the lower end of our product portfolio,” Scherer replied when asked how the rebranding of the C-Series as the Airbus A220 had benefitted the company. He stressed that he was talking about size rather than quality at the “lower” end of the Airbus range of aircraft.
Launched by Montreal-based Bombardier at the 2008 Farnborough International Airshow, the C-Series targeted the 100-150 seat market, which Bombardier felt was underserved by Airbus and Boeing.
With a composite rear fuselage and empennage, aerodynamics advancements, and new highly-efficient and quiet Pratt & Whitney engines, it promised reduced operating costs and increased revenue generation for airlines while giving passengers a spacious and quiet cabin.
But comparatively slow market response at a time of depressed fuel prices — which saw carriers competing for older but less-efficient aircraft — undercut that promise. Airbus eventually moved in, rebranding the two C-Series platforms as its A220-100 and A220-300. Rising fuel costs and other factors saw orders rise by some 50 percent in the first year of Airbus’s involvement, compared with only about 400 or so that Bombardier had managed. As of March 2021, Airbus had orders for 649 aircraft.
“Airbus had not had its eyes on . . . the regional market,” added Scherer, who could be considered almost an archetypical Airbus executive — although born in Germany, he was raised in Toulouse. He also has an MBA from the University of Ottawa as part of a 1983-84 exchange program with the Paris Business School, having chosen the UofO because it was the only MBA offered in French and English.
“With the A220, we do have a foot in that regional market space,” he continued. “On top of that, it’s a very modern airplane, and so in that segment you can consider it the most modern stepping stone you can imagine towards that ultimate goal of sustainable aviation” due to its operational efficiency.
Philippe Mhun, executive vice president, Programs and Services, added that when the A220 is offered to carriers as part of a package with larger Airbus platforms, it results in a “more suitable solution” to mixed route requirements.
Scherer bridled when one reporter said Airbus had lost some potential A220 sales because it could not produce them quickly enough from its plants in Montreal and Mobile, Alabama. He said he was “unaware” of any campaign losses. “I’m aware of campaigns where we have not engaged — or have not been asked to engage – and I would dispute . . . that the A220 has recently lost campaigns.”
Asked by a Chinese reporter about plans to stretch the A220, Scherer said there had been “expressions of interest in China,” particularly to serve its regional markets, and that it would be possible to lengthen the fuselage. “But before it is stretched,” he said, the program would have to mature or, as he put it, “reach cruising altitude.”
On the overall state of the market as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, Scherer said Airbus had “very nicely matched supply and demand” since the coronavirus eruption in March 2020. “As a consequence, we don’t have a yard-sale to conduct. We also have a huge backlog.”
He said early in the briefing that Airbus has nearly 7,200 aircraft on its books. It delivered 566 aircraft in 2020, some 40 percent single-aisle models. But he said the industry overall is far from out of the woods, having lost something like 15 years of growth potential during the pandemic.
Likening it to “falling off a cliff” in March 2020, he said Airbus responded to the abrupt market shift with a “very, very rigorous” analysis of every aircraft and every customer. “Every one of our contracts was reworked, [and] about 80 percent of delivery positions moved” to the point where deliveries are “clocking past the mid-2000s as we speak.”