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Originally published July 15, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 15, 2008 at 7:16 AM

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Farnborough Air Show

Boeing, Airbus say Bombardier's new plane is no cause for worry

Boeing and Airbus executives at the Farnborough Air Show reacted with polite condescension Monday to Canadian plane-maker Bombardier's launch of a new jet carrying 110 to 130 passengers.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

FARNBOROUGH, England — Boeing and Airbus executives at the Farnborough Air Show reacted with polite condescension Monday to the launch of Canadian plane maker Bombardier's new jet carrying 110 to 130 passengers, the low end of what has been the aerospace giants' exclusive territory.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Scott Carson even hinted he may leave Bombardier to learn the hard way that its target market just above 100 passengers isn't profitable.

"We certainly have not ruled out participating in the smaller aircraft market," Carson said.

"But we have not seen over the past decade that market to be terribly attractive."

Airbus sales chief John Leahy claimed not to be worried about the new competition and described the launch dismissively as "very courageous."

"We've never seen any manufacturer launch an airplane without firm orders, particularly into a market with four or five competitors and an unproven engine," he said.

Bombardier, which makes smaller regional jets, launched the new program with "letters of interest" from Lufthansa instead of definitive orders.

Its plane will feature a radically innovative Pratt & Whitney engine called a geared turbofan (GTF) that has yet to be tested in flight.

Apart from Boeing and Airbus, other potential competitors that could move into the market for planes in the range of 100 to 150 seats are regional jet makers Embraer of Brasil, Sukhoi of Russia and Mitsubishi of Japan.

"We wish them luck," Leahy added, speaking after an afternoon news conference.

At the smaller end of Airbus' single-aisle jet family, an A318 has 110 seats; the more popular A319 has 120 to 130 seats.

Bombardier says the CSeries will be more than 20 percent more fuel-efficient than those aircraft, thanks to that GTF engine, lighter composite and aluminum-alloy construction and the latest in aerodynamic improvements.

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Is Leahy worried about any threat?

"I'm not very concerned," said Leahy. "We're not even sure about that engine yet."

At a news conference, Carson said that due to the dramatic rise in fuel costs, airlines now want to squeeze in 10 to 15 extra passengers into each plane.

Another factor favoring larger planes, he said, is the limit at some congested airports, such as New York's Kennedy International, on the number of landings allowed.

"Airlines look for the improved economics associated with additional seats," said Carson. That will offset the potential fuel-efficiency of the CSeries, he said.

Airbus CEO Tom Enders was also gloomy about the CSeries' prospects, "considering we seem to be over the peak of aircraft orders."

"Success really depends upon the [GTF] engine," he said.

Bombardier's chances will also depend upon market acceptance. It added no orders on the first day of the air show.

Steve Udvar-Hazy — the CEO of leasing giant ILFC and aviation market leader who in February expressed interest in the CSeries — is not yet ready to order, an analyst familiar with his thinking said Monday evening at a reception for leasing executives in central London.

The CSeries will struggle for credibility unless Bombardier can close some of its pending sales deals and get an order from Hazy.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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