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Republic Orders New Bombardier Airplane That Will Compete with Boeing and Airbus (If It Works)

Republic, overlord of Frontier, Midwest, and a bunch of regional flying, made headlines last week by placing an order for 40 CS300 airplanes. These are the “C-Series” airplanes that Bombardier has been putting together to compete with the Boeing and Airbus narrowbodies. If it actually works as advertised, then that’s great news. But there’s a big “if” here. This order shows some confidence in the airplane, but more importantly, it also gives us some insight as to where Republic is taking its branded product.

For Republic, this was probably a pretty easy decision to make. The order for 40 planes with 138 seats each is worth $3.1 billion at list prices, but that means they probably paid $29.95. Like Airbus when it first tried to break into the US market, Bombardier must have been willing to give a sweetheart deal to anyone who would take a chance.

The C-Series is the first non-Boeing/Airbus airplane in the 100-150 seat category to get an order in the US since Douglas back in the day. So maybe it’s fitting that the interior of the cabin looks remarkably like the MD-80. Try to ignore the hilarious rainbow of colors strategically placed by Bombardier in this shot (Asian, black, white, Indian, young, old, bald, gray hair, blah, blah, blah) and you’ll see that it actually looks like a vast improvement over the MD-80:

C Series Interior

The seating is 2×3 across, just as in the MD airplanes, but you can see that the windows are nice and big, and, most importantly, so are the overhead bins. They show roller bags being placed wheels-in, so these should be just like what you’ll find on a new 737 or A320, just with only one middle seat per row instead of two.

The other thing that isn’t like the MD-80 is that the engines are slung under the wings, so you won’t be stuck in row 32 staring at an engine casing. The engines are really what have the chance to make this thing succeed. After heading toward the junk heap of formerly important aviation-related companies, Pratt & Whitney has decided to make a comeback with its Geared Turbofan. This is a complex engine that has never been able to be produced reliably for commercial operations before. (They can do it for military.) Pratt thinks it will make it work, and that means a 20% reduction in fuel burn. If it works, that’s huge, and this airplane will fly long before Boeing or Airbus even get close with their next generation airplane. If not, well, this plane may not fly at all.

So what will Republic do with this? Well, the plan is to put them into service in the branded operation – that means Frontier and Midwest. They don’t have much of a choice here. If any airline decided to outsource its 138-seat flying requirements, then there would be an absolute revolt from the front lines. Most airlines don’t have the ability to do it now anyway.

In the branded world, they won’t say if it’s going to be a Frontier or a Midwest product, but let’s be honest. By the time these things show up in 2015, I’ll put money down there’s really only one brand left (if any, I suppose). But there are some clues in the press release about where they’re taking their product.

The airplane will be configured with 138 seats. The first five rows will be in STRETCH configuration with a few inches more legroom and nothing else. That tells me that Midwest’s Signature Service days are numbered. They’ll end up standardizing with STRETCH as the premium option.

Will these airplanes end up replacing the Airbus fleet? It wouldn’t surprise me if that happens one day, but the C-Series can’t really offer the A320-size capacity that Frontier might want to continue to have at the upper end. For what it’s worth, Republic says that no retirements are planned because of this. Well yeah, it’s still 5 years away.

To sum it up, the planes must have been really cheap, and they won’t be delivered for 5 years. Might as well get in on the action now with the hope that this thing works as advertised. If it doesn’t, then I’m sure they can just walk away. If not, then they’ll be in a good place.

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