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Bombardier’s product lineup formerly had three separate families of airliners (in addition to its side business with the Challenger, Learjet, and Global business-jet series):

  • The DHC-8 (Dash 8, Q-Series1) line of 39-to-90-seat regional turboprops, acquired with Bombardier’s 1992 assimilation of de Havilland Canada (hence the “DHC” in the name); the DHC-8 itself had originally entered service back in 1984.
  • The CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet) line of (surprise!) regional jets, which entered service later in 1992 as a stretched airliner version of the Challenger 600 business jet (which was originally produced by Canadair, and was acquired, along with its parent company, by Bombardier in 1987, thus explaining the “Canadair” in the CRJs’ long-form name); the original version was the 40-to-50-seat CRJ100/200 series, produced until 2006, but this was later superseded by the 50-to-104-seat CRJ700 series, which entered service in 2001.
  • The CSeries line of 108-to-160-seat midrange jets, a homegrown Bombardier design which entered service in late 2016.

Recently, however, Bombardier has been selling off their airliner lines seemingly as quickly as they can find buyers to take them off their hands:

  • In mid-2018, Bombardier sold a majority stake in the CSeries to Airbus (who renamed it the Airbus A220), and sold off its remaining stake in the project in February 20202 (although Bombardier does continue to build them at its Montréal factory, albeit merely as an Airbus contractor).
  • In mid-2019, the DHC-8 was sold to Longview Aviation Capital, which resurrected the De Havilland Canada name for a company it established to build the aircraft.
  • Finally, Bombardier is currently (as of mid-2020) finalising a deal to sell the CRJ series to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which would drive Bombardier out of the airliner market completely.

These sales are allegedly to improve the company’s profit margin; however, divesting oneself of one’s flagship products seems completely self-defeating (in a boiling-the-seed-potatoes kind of way) as a strategy for making more money, as it eliminates their ability to sell more of these aircraft in the future. (Moving out of the airliner business to focus solely on business jets is looking especially stupid right now, given that business aviation, unlike commercial aviation, is unlikely to recover more than partially from the current state of affairs.)

What is Bombardier trying to get at here?


1: Technically, the Q-Series moniker only refers to the later DHC-8s equipped with active-noise-suppression equipment; however, with the exception of the DHC-8-100 (which was never equipped with the system, and which left production in 2005), all DHC-8s delivered since mid-1996 are so equipped, including all DHC-8-400s.

2: Thanx to @JZYL for pointing this out.

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    $\begingroup$ Bombardier is [selling the rest of CSeries stake] (ctvnews.ca/business/…) as of Feb 2020. In survival business, cash is king. $\endgroup$ – JZYL May 23 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ You mention the virus chaos as an indication that focusing on business jets is a bad decision. I'd wager that 99.99% of the decisions to go this direction were made well before the Wuhan virus became an issue. $\endgroup$ – FreeMan May 26 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan: I am aware of that; I mentioned it as more of an "in hindsight" thing. $\endgroup$ – Sean May 26 at 18:55
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It's important to understand that Bombardier Transportation/Aerospace, while ostensibly a company separate from the original Bombardier family (which only retained a minority stake when it was split off from Consumer Products - snowmobiles, watercraft, etc), is still actually controlled by the family due to a bizarre dual class share structure where the family retains its minority stake in the form of class A shares that have many more votes per share (I think it's 9 or 10 votes or something like that) than the single-vote class B common stock. This gives the family control of the company, and makes it takeover proof (also making it very difficult to raise private capital), even though its equity stake is a small minority one.

But the basic problem is the C series and to a lesser extent the Global 7000, just about broke the company. So broke they were forced to give the program to Airbus more or less for free. The CRJ line was neglected due to the commitments for the C with little in the way of proper design updates. This handed over dominance on the Regional side to Embraer (who's newest Ejet is basically a baby C-series technology wise) and CRJ production is winding down (it is now a Mitubishi product - M's interest wasn't in the Regional Aircraft program, but its support and spares organization, where M was hopelessly lacking).

On the corporate side, the Lear 85 disaster and the Global 7000/7500 development was another money hole, almost as bad as the C.

So in nutshell, since the traditional government money tap the company has traditionally relied on has largely dried up, the family has decided to dump everything (including rail) and just retain the consumer products operation, the separate family controlled company, upon which the whole business was founded, that was spun off some years ago.

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The reason they are selling aircraft manufacturing lines to improve profit margin is because their aircraft business has a relatively low-profit margin. One of Bombardier most successful products is this:

Bombardier Zefiro

Bombardier Zefiro. Source: Bombardier

It looks somewhat like an aircraft but it is missing the wings. It is called a "train". Bombardier calls itself "the world's leading manufacturer of both planes and trains". Compared to Airbus and Boeing, they are a very small aircraft manufacturer, but they compensate for that in the train market. By moving out of the airliner manufacturing market they focus on their more profitable train building business.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, they have a tentative agreement to sell the train division to Alstom, before COVID. $\endgroup$ – JZYL May 23 at 0:03
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    $\begingroup$ The train business doesn't look like it will last long. The world largest market China has licensed the production and shifted to demostic production $\endgroup$ – user3528438 May 23 at 0:35
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    $\begingroup$ "The reason the are selling": please change the "the" to they $\endgroup$ – Air Canada 001 May 24 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @user3528438: That might be an American perspective. Europe is definitely looking at trains to replace planes. E.g. Air France has to drop a number of domestic routes in favor of trains, as a condition to their bailout. China definitely is a growth market, but that's all additional demand. $\endgroup$ – MSalters May 26 at 8:21

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