Thursday, September 07, 2017

The Comfortable New Planes Airlines Think You Don’t Want: The C Series from Bombardier has wider seats and other perks; why most major carriers aren’t buying

The Wall Street Journal
By Scott McCartney
September 7, 2017

There’s a new passenger jet with wide seats, ample overhead bin space and an extra-quiet engine.

It isn’t selling well.

Four years after its maiden flight, only two small European airlines fly the Bombardier C Series of 100- and 145-passenger planes. Delta will begin flying the plane next year. While there are many reasons for the slow sales, the lack of interest highlights the low priority airlines and passengers place on comfort.

The two airlines currently flying the C Series—Swiss and Air Baltic—say most coach passengers won’t pay higher fares for comfy cabins. For a small fare difference, they’ll still pick less-comfortable airplanes. Airlines say cost is the No. 1 factor when evaluating new airplanes.

“Passengers get into anything that flies if the ticket is cheap,” says Martin Gauss, chief executive of Air Baltic, based in Riga, Latvia.

He says flying the new plane has brought attention to his brand. Passengers notice how quiet the C Series is and that you can pass by a trolley in the aisle without getting blocked. Overhead bins are large, and since there are only five passengers in a row instead of six, there’s more bin space per passenger.

The CS100, which seats 100 to 125 people, and its sister CS300, with up to 145 seats, were designed to bring the low per-seat costs of big planes into the small-plane arena, usually dominated by cramped regional jets.

Bombardier, a longtime producer of regional jets, saw a gap in the aircraft market and decided to venture into larger planes. Boeing and Airbus have made their popular single-aisle jets longer so airlines can pack in more seats. Bombardier figured many markets with service on 50-, 70- and 90-seat regional jets would get bigger, too.

In aviation, there’s usually a trade-off between comfort and cost. Making an airplane wider requires a beefier fuselage. Flying more weight burns more fuel, adds cost and can reduce how far the plane can fly.

But with new fuel-efficient engines and lighter airframe materials, Bombardier found ways to keep operating costs low and still offer a wide cabin. The C Series cabin at its widest point is 129 inches, only 10 inches narrower than a Boeing 737. But the Boeing has six seats in an aisle; the C Series only five.

That means each passenger can have an 18.5-inch-wide seat, roomier than any other coach single-aisle airplane. Alternatively, Bombardier is also offering a unique option for the poor souls stuck in the middle: a 19-inch-wide seat, while window and aisle seats get 18 inches.

The C Series, built at Bombardier’s factory here at the Montreal airport, also has larger windows than rival narrow-bodies, and more of them—1.5 windows per row on average. The cabin feels open and roomy, especially when daylight pours in.

“I think it’s as strong a selling point as we thought it would be,” says Fred Cromer, Bombardier’s president of commercial aircraft, says of the plane’s comfortable cabin.

Which is to say, secondary. Sales were so bad that Bombardier took a $3 billion write-down on the C Series program and needed a bailout in the form of an investment from the Canadian government. Problems were many, from delays in the flight-test program to analysts suggesting Bombardier was pricing the aircraft too high.

Firm orders currently total about 350, Mr. Cromer says. By comparison, Boeing has 3,816 orders for its newest 737 and Airbus has 5,167 orders for the new-engine option of the A320 family.

Mr. Cromer, a former airline executive, says orders will pick up now that the plane is in service and proving to be both economical and reliable. With that, the passenger comforts will sway airlines. “We’re starting to check all the boxes,” he says.

United President Scott Kirby, whose airline considered a C Series order in 2016 before going with Boeing, says he’ll probably examine the 100-seat market again someday. But his preference is for bigger planes. Even if you can’t fill a 737 on a particular route today, he says, in 10 years you’ll likely be able to, and the airline will own the plane for 20 years.

“We’re in a world where flying bigger and bigger planes is just better and better,” Mr. Kirby said at the Boyd Group conference in Las Vegas last week.

Asked later about the benefits of passenger comfort, Mr. Kirby said, “All that stuff matters. But I would have a hard time giving the C Series a passenger preference premium to a 737 or 320-sized aircraft.”

Bombardier’s list prices are close to or even higher than list prices for larger airplanes. The CS100 lists for $79.5 million and the CS300 for $89.5 million. The current list price of a Boeing 737-700 is $82.4 million. But analysts say Bombardier is now more willing to discount prices.

At Swiss, the fuel burn on its C Series planes has been 4% better than Bombardier predicted and the jets have been reliable, with few cancellations, says Peter Koch, Swiss C Series fleet chief.

Mr. Koch says the new plane can upend the basic airline strategy to cram in more seats to improve profitability. “The C Series is breaking that chain. It has a good amount of seat comfort. However, we’re getting big savings from fuel and maintenance,” he says.

Original article can be found here  ➤


  1. Many of us who used to love flying, and racked up considerable miles with multiple airlines, are avoiding it now.
    Two reasons:
    (1) longer and longer security waiting; and
    (2) uncomfortable airline seating, especially for those of us who are six feet or taller.
    It is not fun to fly any longer.

  2. You left out (3) - Dehumanizing travel experience leaving "customers" feeling and often behaving like caged animals.

    You're right about the last point is no longer pleasant to fly commercial. Used to love it, now I hate it, avoid flying commercial every chance I get. Get that, investors?