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Can the C-Series Overtake Boeing and Airbus?

Bombardier's C-SeriesIt seems far-fetched to be sure. Bombardier, manufacturer of all those little regional jets that nobody wants anymore (at least not the smaller ones) decided a while ago that it wanted to play with the big boys and build the C-Series, a series of jets that would compete with Boeing's 737 and Airbus's A319. Seems like a ridiculous idea, right? Well, I certainly would have agreed in the past, but now I'm not nearly as convinced.

What changed my mind? Well, to be honest, I hadn't thought about the C-Series in awhile, but this post on Aviation Week's Things with Wings blog got me thinking. If Bombardier can actually build an aircraft that is 23 to 28 percent more efficient than the current offerings from Boeing and Airbus, then they've got some serious opportunity here. I just have to wonder if they can come through.

Boeing has put off making a decision on its 737 replacement until 2012. Airbus is probably looking at a similar timeline. That means that the planes won't be in service until late in the next decade. Meanwhile, Bombardier plans on having its aircraft in service by 2013. Sounds great, but what might derail that?

It's all about the engines. As noted in the Airbus article above, a next generation of jet engines will be what enables significant gains in efficiency. So, if Airbus and Boeing don't think the technology will be ready to go on the wing in 2013, what makes Bombardier think it can come up with such efficiencies?

One thing could be the size of the plane. The 737 and A320 families span everything from 120 to nearly 200 seats. That means that the models on the smaller end are likely to be carrying more weight than would be ideal for such a small plane. Bombardier is only looking to compete with the 110 to 130 seat range, so they can design an aircraft that is ideal for that size. They've also picked a Pratt & Whitney engine to power the plane, and while that's probably a little small to power the larger versions of the Airbus and Boeing, it's a good size for the smaller planes.

It will be very interesting to see if Bombardier can pull this off. Even if they can, the lack of fleet commonality with larger planes might still kill it, but it seems to have a better chance now than I would have ever guessed.

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