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The tail end of a C Series aircraft in a Bombardier plant in Montreal

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Bombardier Inc. is beefing up the sales effort for its new C Series airplane with a new senior vice-president of sales, marketing and asset management in its commercial aircraft division, to capitalize on what should be a golden opportunity to boost sales of the plane.

Chet Fuller - who was hired from General Electric Corp., where he was president, civil systems at GE Aviation - will place "a particular emphasis on our all-new C series family of commercial aircraft," Gary Scott, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, said in a statement on Tuesday. The senior global sales position had been vacant since April, 2009, but Bombardier has now added the marketing and asset management functions to the job.

Mr. Fuller's appointment comes amid a lull in sales for the new plane, which is aimed at the 100-seat to 149-seat, single-aisle market now dominated by Airbus Industrie and Boeing Corp., with their A320 and 737 models, respectively.

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Airlines have been waiting for the two industry giants to decide whether they are going to develop new engines for those two models, or design and develop entirely new planes in the narrow-body segment.

The $3.4-billion project to develop the C Series is Bombardier's attempt to compete with Airbus and Boeing, which have a virtual lock on sales of large commercial aircraft. As Bombardier attempts to challenge the two larger companies in the narrow-body segment, the Montreal-based transportation giant is facing new competitors in the regional jet market it dominates.

While Bombardier attempts to convince airlines and airline leasing companies of the benefits of buying airplanes with a 20-per-cent improvement in fuel economy and a 15-per-cent reduction in operating costs, Airbus and Boeing are plagued with problems with their larger, twin-aisle aircraft.

As the two giants address ongoing problems with their A380 and 787 planes, they have fewer engineering and other resources to devote to new narrow-body planes, which are older than the wide-bodied A380s and 787s and are overdue for a major overhaul.

"There's a real feeling that both Airbus and Boeing are totally focused on their twin-aisle products and the logical, natural response to crush the C Series with re-engined Airbus and Boeing narrow bodies might be a somewhat tougher sell at this point," said Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis at aviation consulting firm Teal Group Inc. in Fairfax, Va.

Although Bombardier has not won any new orders from airlines since last February for the C Series, company officials are confident that more customers will buy the plane before it takes to the air for its first flight in 2012 and goes into commercial use in 2013.

Airlines are probably waiting to see if Airbus will develop new engines for its A320, or decide not to do that and develop a new model later this decade, Mr. Aboulafia said.

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"If Airbus defers, or there's no announcement by first quarter of next year, then we should expect to see C Series orders - and if there aren't, then there will be very big questions," he said.

Mr. Fuller, a former U.S. Navy pilot who made 300 landings on aircraft carriers, is an aerospace industry veteran whose career has included stints at Honeywell Aerospace and ATA Airlines.

"There's no doubt that the industry finds itself in a challenging business environment, so from our perspective strengthening our team helps us to expand our sales marketing and asset management opportunities globally," Bombardier spokesman John Arnone said.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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