The two biggest planemakers ran neck and neck in order announcements during the first three days of the Paris Air Show, with $55.8 billion of commitments for Boeing to Airbus's $55.6 billion. Airbus added sales Thursday to United Airlines and Spirit Airlines.
So far, Bombardier's CSeries and models from challengers such as Commercial Aircraft of China and Russia's Irkut are being shut out of a single-aisle market projected at almost 25,000 planes in the next two decades. Brazil's Embraer, a Bombardier rival in regional jets, has avoided a confrontation with the Boeing-Airbus narrow-body duopoly and announced $16 billion of business this week for upgraded small planes.
"It's one thing to have yet another air show where the CSeries doesn't do anything," said consultant Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Fairfax, Va.-based Teal Group. "It's another thing to have their biggest direct competitor do more in an afternoon than they've done in five years."
Embraer garnered 365 orders and options for its revamped regional jets, led by SkyWest and International Lease Finance Corp. The planes will have new engines, and the largest will stretch to accommodate 132 people.
Bombardier introduced the CSeries in 2008 as it sought to move up from its signature regional aircraft. China's state- owned Comac and Irkut had national backing in taking on Chicago-based Boeing and Toulouse, France-based Airbus. Commercial success has yet to arrive.
The CSeries, designed to carry as many as 160 people and compete with the smallest Boeing and Airbus offerings, was shunned by buyers this week, even with its first flight scheduled to take place within days.
"It is an entirely new plane. I can understand that the airlines are waiting," said Egon Behle, chief executive officer at Germany's MTU Aero Engines AG, a partner with United Technologies Corp.'s Pratt & Whitney on the CSeries' power plant. "Bombardier does not have a track record like Embraer, Airbus and Boeing."
Bombardier has booked 388 CSeries orders and options, according to the company. That compares with 317 orders for Boeing's upgraded 737 MAX this year through May and 391 for the new Airbus A320neo in 2013 up until the beginning of the air show, the companies said.
Those are the newest and most advanced single-aisle planes from Boeing and Airbus, part of a class typically flown on shorter routes with multiple takeoffs and landings daily. Airbus announced firm orders for 135 A320s from Easyjet, plus an option for another 100, while Boeing signed an accord in Paris for 175 737 airliners with Ryanair Holdings.
Spirit, based in Miramar, Fla., said Thursday it would take 30 current-version A321s with a list value of about $3.22 billion. United Airlines, a unit of United Continental Holdings, booked wide-body planes with a list value of $11.6 billion.
Bombardier's show successes were limited to smaller business jets and the sale of three regional aircraft and four turboprops to Nigeria's Arik Air. The Canadian manufacturer said an absence of CSeries order announcements at Paris's Le Bourget airport doesn't indicate airline disinterest.
"We are discussing with dozens of potential customers, they've been here this week visiting us," said Mike Arcamone, who oversees commercial aircraft for Montreal-based Bombardier. "We are not scheduling orders for the air show since we must sign orders that are beneficial for both parties."
A lack of CSeries sales is among the reasons Los Angeles-based ILFC hasn't placed an order yet, CEO Henri Courpron said yesterday in an interview. Lessors depend on active markets for used planes to maximize the value of their investments.
"We don't feel confident enough to invest in that plane," Courpron said. "There's no customer base on which to build. They have to invent it themselves."
Comac and Irkut have struggled to find traction for their new planes outside the companies' home regions.
The Irkut MS-21, due for first delivery in 2017, should have a first flight in 2015, said Mikhail Pogosyan, CEO of Moscow-based parent United Aircraft Corp. It may be difficult to entice buyers already flying Boeing and Airbus jets, he said.
"Airlines with large Airbus and Boeing fleets will buy the MAX and neo," Pogosyan said. "I believe we will get more orders once we are in flight test."
Comac has secured agreements for the sale of 380 jets from 15 buyers, according to the Shanghai-based manufacturer's website. The customers are largely Chinese, with the exception of General Electric Co.'s aircraft leasing arm, which has signed on to take 20 of the C919 planes.
"The ones who'll be serious competitors will be the Chinese," said John Leahy, sales chief and chief operating officer at Airbus. "This is an industry that requires billions and billions of investments per year. I don't think the Canadians are capable of doing that and perhaps the others aren't interested in the long haul."
Ryanair, Europe's biggest discount airline, reckons Comac will bring its current model to market and CEO Michael O'Leary, who has a development agreement with the company, predicts the planemaker will go on to build a more competitive successor.
"If they do nothing more than sell a lot of aircraft into Chinese sphere-of-influence airlines, that will put pressure on Airbus and Boeing," O'Leary said. "By the time airlines are looking at deliveries into the early 2020s, we can have three credible alternatives. It's in everyone's interest."