- REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
In 2004, Bombardier, maker of business jets and high-speed trains, decided it was going to build a larger airliner.
Called the C-Series, the jet is meant to compete with Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’ A320 – which dominate the medium-range airliner market.
Bombardier is a sprawling business, making everything from Learjets for wealthy businessmen to cars for New York’s subway system.
But the C-Series has become an anchor around its neck. More than a decade after the plan was conceived, the jets still aren’t in commercial service.
Bombardier spent $5.5 billion on their development, and delays and cost overruns have meant its debt has ballooned. Ratings agencies are worried about future cash flow, and the shares have fallen by two-thirds this year.
The company, which had nearly $10 billion of debt on its books at the end of June, burned through $1.6 billion of cash in the first half of 2015, according to Moody’s analyst Darren Kirk.
“Bombardier needs to the get the plane into service, prove that it is successful and generate more demand if it wants to correct its cash flow shortage,” he said.
With this as a backdrop, the Canadian firm will release its results for the third quarter on Thursday. Analysts expect sales and profits to continue falling, but a day ahead of the report investors got a glimmer of hope: Canada’s LaPresse reported Wednesday that Quebec may announce an aid package for Bombardier as well.
The company says things are better than investors recognize. The aviation business currently $34 billion worth of orders on the books with $22 billion in business aircraft and $12 billion in commercial aircraft.
Bombardier’s relatively small size means it doesn’t require nearly as many orders as Boeing and Airbus to keep the factory busy, spokesman Yan Lapointe said.
And the company isn’t way off its target of 300 C-Series jets sold by the time the aircraft is ready to ferry passengers.
Bombardier Aerospace vice president Ross Mitchell told Business Insider that, with the jet scheduled to enter service next year, the company has 243 firm orders on the books.
- REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
But the concern is that those orders aren’t coming fast enough. A whole year has come and gone since the last time Bombardier announced a new buyer for the C-Series, and one of its largest buyers so far, Republic Airways, could be about to bolt.
Republic, which originally ordered the plane for its now sold Frontier subsidiary, has said it is considering backing off from its commitment to the aircraft amid a slowdown in its own business. “The Republic Airways planes are never going to be delivered to Republic,” Airways News senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara said in an interview.
In June, Bombardier flew both the CS100 and the larger CS300 to the Paris Air Show. The planes arrived at Le Bourget airport with great fanfare, but left without booking a single new order.
The painful thing for Bombardier is that there’s nothing wrong with the airplane. In fact, the C-Series has garnered generally positive reviews.
“The CS300 kills the Boeing 737 Max 7 and the Airbus A319neo in terms of ability and efficiency,” Bhaskara said.
At the Paris Air Show, aircraft leasing company, Air Lease Corp.’s president and CEO John Plueger told The Seattle Times that it’s not enough for people to like the plane because what Bombardier needs are orders.
It’s a stark contrast to Bombardier’s other aircraft. The company’s CRJ-Series regional jets are among the most in-demand aircraft of its type with nearly 2,000 examples in service. Its Q-Series turboprop airliner is a staple of regional airlines around the world with more than 1,000 of the planes in service. That’s on top of the company’s iconic Challenger, Global, and Learjet families of private jets.
Part of the problem is that the C-Series is tapping a part of the market that the world’s largest aircraft makers have deemed unworthy because of thin profits. Boeing and Airbus both discontinued their regional jets, the 737-600 and A318.
All may not be lost.
- REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
Analysts such as Bhaskara predict room for as many as 2,500 planes in the 100- to 150-seat jet category, and Bloomberg recently reported that Bombardier is in talks about a possible order with JetBlue Airways.
Another major buyer, according to Bloomberg, could be United Airlines, which told pilots it plans to order small jetliners, Bloomberg also reports.
There’s also room for the C-Series to recover as the older Boeing and Airbus aircraft are phased out and need to be replaced, said Tom Capital, Deloitte’s vice chairman and head of global aerospace and defense.
Boeing and Airbus are focusing on larger aircraft with longer range,” Captain said. “This has left an opening for others such as Bombardier to come in with new and efficient equipment.”
The trick for Bombardier now is to turn that optimism into actual orders. And fast.