The first Bombardier CS300 has been recently delivered to its launch customer – Latvia’s airBaltic. The mid-range aircraft is in the same weight category as the currently in-development Embraer E190-E2 and E195-E2, all of them seating between 100 and 150 passengers. Both manufacturers quote fuel-efficiency and cost-effectiveness as their main advantages, but why would an airline (remember – no risks in aviation!) choose them over slightly larger counterparts from Airbus or Boeing? Join AeroTime to search for the answer.


In its market forecast for the next years, Bombardier presents a demand for 7,000 airplanes in the 100-150 segment, with Embraer providing a similar figure. The number does look attractive, but what will be left to Embraer and Bombardier, when both Airbus and Boeing have a dog in the race with A319 and B737, respectively? The question is open, especially knowing the low number of orders that A319neo has attracted (a mere 58 aircraft) and Boeing’s decision to add two more seat rows to the 737 MAX 7. What can Embraer and Bombardier expect with their new mid-range jets: an over-the-board success or a niche so small that it becomes unreasonable?


Not too big, not too small

Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer are the main new players of the emerging 100-150 seat jet segment. Bombardier CS100 (up to 135 seats) and CS300 (up to 160 seats) programs were launched in 2008 and the CS100 had its first flight in 2013, CS300 – in 2015. The new generation of Embraer is on its way, with E190-E2 (up to 114 seats) and E195-E2 (up to 132 seats) scheduled for delivery in 2018 and 2019, respectively. As of 14 December 2016, CS100 had 123 orders (4 delivered) and CS300 – 237 orders (1 delivered). Embraer’s numbers are a bit more modest with both E190-E2 and E195-E2 having racked up 90 orders each.


  
 

“We find the segment [100-150 seat jets – AeroTime] is underserved,” says Ross Mitchell, Vice President Commercial Operations, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft.

“There has not been a brand new airplane designed for the segment in quite a long time now.”

Fuel-efficiency is cited as a major advantage of C Series and E2 planes, which might be a game changer for airlines servicing routes with lower density. However, choosing aircraft based on that factor alone might be short-sighted.

Shukor Yusof, aviation analyst at Malaysia-based Endau Analytics, points out: “When the market grows, the airline might find itself stuck with smaller aircraft while the competitors using A320s and B737s enjoy the upper hand”. Also, buying Airbus and Boeing planes translates to less fuss in the long-run. The advantages of choosing aircraft by either of the two are better aftermarket support, the availability of spare parts, commonality with other models and the large number of staff (from pilots to technicians) trained to handle the planes.


  
 

A trend of budget carriers switching to larger planes in order to minimize costs per seat mile is not disputed by Bombardier and Embraer. However, according to Colin Bole, senior VP for sales at Bombardier, 100-150 seat jets might prove themselves at lower occupancy levels, allowing low-cost carriers to offer routes that would not be viable with larger planes.


There’s something about Asia

One of the possible challenges the airlines using 100-150 seat jets might face comes from airports with higher traffic load. According to Edward Clayton, senior executive director at PwC Consulting Associates: “Many airports are now becoming congested which means airlines are using larger aircraft to make best use of the available slots. In addition, congested airports often take steps to discourage the use of smaller aircraft in order to maximize the value of their slots.”

Having that in mind, Clayton foresees that the segment might see success in Asia which has many new regional airports developed. However, one still cannot be certain that Asian carriers will express interest in what Embraer and Bombardier have to offer. So far, the only Asian airline to have placed a firm order for C Series planes is Korean Air (10 aircraft). Embraer’s E190-E2 has so far been ordered by two Asian carriers – Indonesia’s Kalstar Aviation (5 aircraft) and China’s Tianjin Airlines (20 aircraft).

However, China, undisputedly the largest market in the region, might eventually close its doors to ambitious foreign plane makers, as the country’s indigenous C919 (up to 174 seats) narrow-body aircraft is going to be introduced in 2019. A similar situation might arise in Russia, which has its single-aisle MC-21-200 (up to 176 seats) plane scheduled for 2018. So, in those two markets Bombardier and Embraer will have to face not only the long-standing duopoly of Boeing and Airbus, but also the preferential treatment given to state-owned plane manufacturers.


Finding a niche

“We don’t want to cut out Airbus and Boeing,” is what Colin Bole, Bombardier’s senior VP of sales told Bloomberg reporters recently. But C Series planes as well as Embraer’s in-development E190-E2 and E195-E2 partially overlap with Airbus A319 (including the neo model) and 737-700 (including the updated 737 MAX 7). Challenging the duopoly might be difficult as most airlines are seeking to replace their aged mid-range Airbus and Boeing planes with newer versions of the same aircraft, according to Tomas Chlumecky, a Canada-based aviation analyst.



“The C Series will struggle facing tough pricing (+70% discounts on narrow-body aircraft) from Airbus and Boeing” Chlumecky told AeroTime. “Also, the market for the 100-150 is small, with Delta being a “rare” order as it has Boeing 717 planes to replace, but very few large airlines have such small aircraft”.

Both Bombardier and Embraer are still testing the waters with their new jets, and there are no concrete indications of whether their efforts are going to be a hit or a miss. Only time will tell, if airlines are going to view their mid-range jets as possible risks or suitable options. Who knows, maybe next time you’re visiting your relatives, it’s a C Series or E2 plane that takes you there.