Global contenders to break the commercial aircraft duopoly

  • 27-May-2015 02:35 EDT
CS300_3 (2).jpg

After several development delays in the CSeries program, Bombardier's CS300 had its first flight at the end of February. The first CSeries aircraft to fly was the CS100, which flew in September 2013.

In the commercial jet market below the 150-seat Airbus and Boeing killing fields, the next biggest sales are in the hands of Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer.

Bombardier has had a troubled development history with its ambitious CSeries jetliners that nudge the sector edge with the CS300, which can seat up to 149 passengers but would usually be equipped with around 130 seats. The slightly smaller CS100, typically seating 110 passengers, is due to enter delayed airline service before the end of this year with European regional operator Swiss.

Bombardier is planning to show both versions in public for the first time at the Paris Air Show and hopes that this will re-launch the product line, which has been flatlining for a couple of years. The company has many unconfirmed commitments on its books, one of the latest being Malaysia’s Flymojo for 40 aircraft, and Bombardier will be hoping to announce more firm sales soon.

Flight tests using six aircraft are underway in the development program leading to certification. Compared to the smallest members of the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families, the CSeries offers more optimized performance on low-medium density sectors, with a lighter and more compact airframe and fuel-efficient P&W Pure Power geared turbofan (GTF) engines.

The direct rival to the CSeries is to be found in Embraer’s next-generation E-Jet models. These are being developed in three different sizes, in line with the current Embraer regional jets. They will be known as the E175-E2, E190-E2, and the E195-E2. First deliveries of the E190-E2 are expected to be made in 2018, with the E195-E2 following in 2019 and the E175-E2 in 2020. So far 420 E2 models are on order and option. Power is being provided by P&Ws GTF again, designated the PW1900G.

From its outset, Mitsubishi’s MRJ90 was designed to also exploit the fuel-saving P&W GTF engines, as well as a lightweight airframe with high composite contents. However, extended delays due to revised specifications and subsequent design changes have resulted in the program losing its potential lead, and is now faced with well-established competition from Bombardier and Embraer, with similar size and similar powered rivals. Over 200 orders have been received, with a similar number of options.

A few years ago it was thought that Russia could be making inroads into this market sector with its Sukhoi Superjet, manufactured in cooperation with Alenia in Italy. But with Russia falling out of favor in the West and the Superjet facing new competition, sales beyond Russia have been very limited (except to Mexico) and now efforts are underway to establish a new leasing company in China, which might take 100 Superjets, and which might also assist sales campaigns in the Asian market. Also in Russia, Irkut is developing a new 180-seat airliner, the MC-21, but this is unlikely to have much, if any, sales impact on Boeing and Airbus sales, except perhaps in Russia itself.

China’s own attempts to develop new commercial aircraft aimed at the global market are still at an early stage though the ambition is still very strong, with massive subsidized state support for new aerospace factories. The initial program, the Comac ARJ21, is an MD-95 look-alike and has been in development for over 12 years. It only recently was awarded Chinese certification and is expected to enter domestic Chinese service later this year.

Both Boeing and Airbus have sold over 1000 aircraft each to Chinese airlines, and Airbus currently assembles A320s ordered for Chinese airlines at Tianjin, though China is currently manufacturing the first prototype of its own indigenous design, the C919. This is a direct rival to the 737 and A320 (150-180 seats) and will be powered by two CFM LEAP-1C engines. Chinese airlines and leasing companies have committed to 450 C919s to date, though the first flight may not take place until late 2015 or early 2016 and service entry is anticipated around 2018.

As with Russia’s MC-21, the Chinese C919 may reduce Western sales to the domestic airlines in these two countries, but they are hardly likely to create any medium-term concern for the big Western players who will no doubt be very active in the coming years through continuous improvement programs, to keep on top of any emerging competition.

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