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Business-jet version of C Series sparks interest

An artist's rendition of the new Bombardier C Series jetliner. REUTERS/ Bombardier

STR/REUTERS

Under mounting deadline pressure to meet its end-of-2013 delivery date for its new C Series model jetliner, Bombardier Inc. is nonetheless contemplating the possible launch of a business-jet variant of the long-range narrow-body plane.

"We have had demand from customers who have asked us to look at" a business-jet version of the aircraft, said Rodney Williams, vice-president of marketing at Bombardier Business Aircraft.

"It could contribute decently to C Series sales," Mr. Williams said in an interview from Las Vegas on Wednesday where he was attending a business-jet trade show and conference.

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The new business jet would be by far Bombardier's biggest and most-expensive corporate plane.

The priority right now, however, is getting to the launch date for the commercial variant of the C Series, he said.

He made the comments a day after Guy Hachey, president of Bombardier Aerospace and head of the commercial plane unit, said that Bombardier is "against a wall" on its schedule for getting the C Series out on time.

He added that Bombardier has used up a lot of its wiggle room in the development of the jet and – while he doesn't see missing the deadline – there is less time to deal with unforeseen technological or other problems that might crop up.

"We've built the timeline to be able to mitigate any risks that might pop up. Right now we're at the point in the program where we've gone through a lot of contingencies," said Bombardier Aerospace spokeswoman Haley Dunne.

"We have less of a buffer but it's not that we are going to be late at this point."

Bombardier is hoping to avoid the major delays that occurred on rivals Boeing Co.'s 787 and Airbus SAS' A380 jet programs.

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At a briefing for reporters at the National Business Aviation Association conference in Las Vegas, Mr. Hachey also reiterated that Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace is considering geographic diversification of its manufacturing facilities in order to offset currency risk and to be physically closer to suppliers.

"Bombardier is evaluating facilities and suppliers in such places as Eastern Europe and North Africa," Ms. Dunne said Wednesday.

"For now, it's the status quo. We haven't made a decision on that."

Bombardier Aerospace already has a manufacturing presence or partnerships in several countries, including Ireland, Mexico and China. Bombardier's rail unit is also present in dozens of countries.

The world's third-largest civil aircraft manufacturer, Bombardier has been struggling with a slump in sales of its workhorse regional jet while business-jet sales have held their own.

UBS Securities analyst Tasneem Azim said in a research note Wednesday that Bombardier officials at the NBAA indicated that "there is still another decade of good business" for the company's regional-jet business before a decision on the segment's future needs to be made.

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The C Series program has hit all of its critical milestones but "has burned through much of its slack time, increasing the risk of delay," she added. Bombardier said that, even if there is a delay, it won't be significant, she said.

Steve Ridolfi, the head of Bombardier's business-jet division, said during the conference that a business jet, or "VIP" version of the C Series, could sell between 6 and 24 units a year.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More

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