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Bombardier Puts Faith In C-Series Jet

At Farnborough International Airshow, there were no deals for Bombardier's C-Series jet, but the Canandian plane maker insists it remains a potential rival to?Boeing and Airbus.

FARNBOROUGH, England (AP) -- Bombardier failed to fulfil expectations for an attention-grabbing order for its much-touted C-Series single-aisle airliner at the Farnborough International Airshow, but the Canadian plane maker insists it remains a potential rival to existing offerings from Boeing and Airbus.

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft President Gary Scott told the AP on Thursday that the Montreal-based company is in advanced discussions with "a handful" of customers for the C-Series, despite being outshone at Farnborough by Brazil's Embraer as both attempt to make inroads into the lucrative mid-sized civilian jet market.

Montreal-based Bombardier made deals worth $1 billion at the event, but the majority came from its successful business jet division, with the commercial arm doing just one deal with Australian flag carrier Qantas, and for just seven Q400 turboprops worth $218 million.

Embraer, by contrast, signed a $1.3 billion deal with Flybe for 35 E175s, which competes against Bombardier's CRJ700, with options for more as the British low-cost airline plans to expand in Europe.

There were no deals at all for the C-Series, which Bombardier is marketing as 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the comparable Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 family of aircraft.

Bombardier currently has 90 firm orders and 90 options for the C-Series, which launched in 2008 and is due for its first delivery in 2013.

"We all like to make announcements at airshows because everbody's watching, but we do not drive our contract discussions to be concluded by an arbitrary date like an airshow," Scott said between appointments with potential customers at the show outside London.

"We think that's not productive, it can end up in what I'll call less quality orders just in order to make an announcement at a show," he added. "So we focus on getting quality orders."

Scott said that Bombardier expects more orders "in the not too distant future," but declined to name a firmer time-frame.

Bombardier eventually hopes to capture half the global market for 100-149 seat planes, which it forecasts will require 6,700 jets between 2010 and 2029.

Expectations were raised for the C-Series at Farnborough after Bombardier notched up a strong 80-plane order earlier this year from Republic Airways Holding Inc. for the plane, which uses lightweight composite materials, advanced technologies, and a new engine from Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp., to make fuel efficiencies.

Boeing and Airbus both conceded on the eve of the show that their days of their duopoly in the 100-200 seat plane market was numbered, citing Bombardier, Embraer, China's state-owned Comac and Russia's Irkut as growing challenges.

Part of the problem for Bombardier is that many potential buyers are hanging back to see what Boeing and Airbus plan in retaliation -- both manufacturers are considering whether to add fuel-efficient engines to their popular narrow-body aircraft to compete with the C-Series.

Virgin America CEO David Cush, who signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus for 40 A320s and options for 20 more at Farnborough, said that the C-Series "is a great airplane."

But moving to a second fleet from a different manufacturer, which entails greater maintenance and engineering costs, is difficult for a small carrier like Virgin, Cush said.

"Our hope and desire is that Airbus will have a efficient option by 2016-2017 ... so that we can stay with an all Airbus fleet," he said. "But in the end I'll also say that if there is another aircraft out there that is 15 to 20 percent more green than the aircraft we have, then we will take a hard look at them."

Qatar Airways gave Bombardier its only deal at Farnborough with an order for three business jets worth $122 million, but did not make a C-Series committment.

Qatar Chief Executive CEO Akbar Al Baker said the carrier had issues over the Pratt & Whitney engines used in the C-Series, but those had been allayed and it was still interested in acquiring the plane.

"We are definitely still talking to Qatar," said Scott. "Our ongoing discussions have been positive, they have been productive."

Max Sukkhasantikul, Frost & Sullivan's Commercial Aviation Consulting Analyst, expects things to improve once Bombardier works out servicing and maintenance issues.

"The C-series orders will pick up," Sukkhasantikul said. "If aircraft orders do not occur during Farnborough it will certainly occur a month or two later down the line."

AP Reporter Andrew Khouri contributed to this report.