Tuesday, February 09, 2016

WestJet says Bombardier’s C Series is ‘too small’ for its mainline service

The new Bombardier Inc. C Series is a great airplane, but it doesn’t work for WestJet Airlines Ltd., Gregg Saretsky, chief executive officer of the Calgary-based carrier, said Wednesday.

The 100- to 150-seat C Series, which is scheduled to carry its first passengers during the second quarter, is too small for WestJet’s mainline service and too big for its Encore regional network, which uses the turboprop Bombardier Q400 plane, Mr. Saretsky said during a meeting with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board Tuesday.

For its mainline service, WestJet has Boeing 737 Max airplanes on order.

“We’re looking for bigger planes, not smaller planes, and the Bombardier C Series is too small,” Mr. Saretsky said.

“It’s kind of the size we’re getting rid of,” he said, pointing to WestJet’s Boeing 737-700 models, 10 of which the airline just sold to Southwest Airlines Co. “These are 130-seat units going away and being replaced with 168-seat units and the trend is to larger [airplanes].”

He noted that Boeing spent a lot of time talking with customers such as WestJet and eventually decided to drop plans to build a wide-bodied, but shorter plane to replace the single-aisle 737, one of the most successful airplane programs in aviation history.

If Bombardier had asked WestJet, the airline would have told Bombardier that the C Series is too small for its mainline needs, Mr. Saretsky said.

“I don’t know if they had dated market research or they didn’t talk to enough customers to know,” he said.

Marianella de la Barrera, a spokesperson for Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said the Montreal-based transportation giant spoke with various airlines before developing the C Series.

“We developed an airline working group, which was very instrumental in voicing the needs and wants of a clean-sheet aircraft. And some of them became customers,” Ms. de la Barrera said. “And some of them, even though they’re not customers yet, some of them still contributed to it and are now revisiting us and are potential customers.”

Bombardier flew the C Series to Calgary last year and showed it to WestJet, she said.

“At this point, WestJet is not in a position where they might need our aircraft in the near term. So we do respect that they are a Q400 customer and a Max customer.”

Bombardier has 243 firm orders for the C Series, which can seat a maximum of 160 passengers in a single-class configuration. The C Series program is $2-billion over its original $3.4-billion budget and the Quebec government has stepped in with a $1-billion (U.S.) financial package for the program.

The federal government is considering a similar contribution.

Mr. Saretsky said he generally opposes bailouts, but more help for Bombardier is something he can support.

“Is there a low spot here that Bombardier finds itself in that with some help they can extricate themselves?”

Story and comments:  http://www.theglobeandmail.com

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