Delta gives Bombardier boost, buying struggling C Series jet

AP News
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Posted: Apr 28, 2016 11:28 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — Bombardier's fledgling new jet, the C Series, got a much-needed boost Thursday with one of the world's largest airlines committing to add the plane to its fleet.

Delta Air Lines will become the U.S. launch customer of the single-aisle jet, placing a firm order for 75 of the planes. Delta will add the smallest variant of the jet, the CS100, which seats 108 to 133 passengers depending on the configuration. The Atlanta-based airline has options for 50 additional C Series aircraft and the ability to substitute some of the jets for the larger CS300 aircraft, which seats 130 to 160 passengers.

Delta did not say how many passengers each plane would hold but said each would include a first class cabin.

The sale is a major milestone for Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., which has struggled to sign on airlines to its new jet. The company had previously focused on smaller regional jets but launched the C Series to as a fuel-efficient jet able to carry more passengers and compete with the smallest planes from Boeing and Airbus. The lightweight plane, designed with composite materials has been promised to cut fuel consumption by 20 compared to similar sized aircraft.

But after its launch, Boeing and Airbus redesigned their popular 737 and A320 jets to make them more efficient. The new planes sold quickly and helped swell both of their order books to record levels.

Bombardier's fuel savings was no longer a differentiator. Airlines that already flew Boeing or Airbus jets preferred to stick with those models to avoid additional pilot training and to keep a common fleet for simpler maintenance operations.

Canada's federal government is considering a request for $1 billion in funding to help Bombardier stay afloat. The province of Quebec, where the company is based, has already pledged a billion to Bombardier, one of Canada's biggest global competitors. Bombardier employs more than 70,000 people around the world and exports roughly 95 percent of its products. Earlier this year, the company announced it was cutting 7,000 jobs over two years.

Swiss International Air Lines was the only major airline to purchase the C Series with hometown airline Air Canada only getting behind the plane after the Canadian government became worried about Bombardier's financial health. And even Air Canada's order wasn't a firm commitment. Other airlines to sign up for the C Series include Iraqi Airways and Great Britain's Odyssey Airlines.

Delta has been quickly phasing out its aging, gas-guzzling jets including its 50-seat regional planes. Since 2009, it has retired 280 of those 50-seat planes and more than 130 older, narrow-body aircraft. It is bringing more of that outsourced regional flying back into its mainline fleet, flown by its own pilots. The C Series, which will join the fleet in 2018, will be flown by Delta's own pilots.

The new planes carry a list price of $5.6 billion but large airlines often pay much lower rates. Delta, in particular, is a shrewd negotiator, often purchasing planes that nobody else wants for extreme discounts. Neither side disclosed the actual price paid, but with this purchase, Delta becomes Bombardier's largest C Series customer.

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