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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Airbus takes control of Bombardier CSeries jet programme

Canadian firm says the partnership with French plane maker should more than double the value of the passenger aircraft programme

Bombardier’s C-series aircraft programme  will be majority owned by Airbus. Adnan Abidi/Reuters
Bombardier’s C-series aircraft programme will be majority owned by Airbus. Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Airbus has agreed to buy a majority stake in Bombardier's CSeries jetliner programme, grabbing control of a struggling competitor at the second attempt and giving the Canadian plane-and-train-maker an unexpected boost in its costly trade dispute with Boeing.

The deal, which would come at no cost for France-based Airbus, would give the European plane maker a 50.01 per cent interest in CSeries Aircraft Limited Partnership (Csalp), which manufactures and sells the jets, the companies said.

While Bombardier will lose control of a plane programme developed at a cost of US$6 billion, it gives the CSeries improved economies of scale and a better sales network. The 110 to 130-seat plane has not secured a new order in 18 months and is being threatened by a possible 300 per cent duty on US imports.

Bombardier said the partnership should more than double the value of the CSeries programme.

"Bombardier no longer has control of this jet, but then again, it's better to have a 30 per cent share of a very successful programme than to struggle with a highly risky programme that was perhaps too big for them from the start," said the aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia.

Canadian innovation minister Navdeep Bains, who must decide whether to approve the deal, said "on the surface, Bombardier's new proposed partnership ... would help position the CSeries for success".

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The Airbus chief executive Tom Enders said the company has offered to assemble some of the narrowbody jets at its US plant in Alabama for orders by American carriers.

The US assembly line would mean the jets would not be subject to possible US anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties of 300 per cent, up from an initial 220 per cent hit, the Bombardier chief executive Alain Bellemare said.

Mr Bellemare called the deal with Airbus, which was first attempted unsuccessfully in 2015, a "strategic" decision that is expected to close in the second half of 2018.

"We're doing this deal here not because of this Boeing petition. We are doing this deal because it is the right strategic move for Bombardier," Mr Bellemare said, referring to Boeing's complaint that the Canadian firm received illegal subsidies and dumped CSeries planes at "absurdly low" prices.

A Boeing spokesman dismissed the agreement as a "questionable deal between two state-subsidised competitors" to try to skirt a recent US trade finding against the CSeries.

In February, the Canadian government announced $297 million in repayable loans for the CSeries and another Bombardier jet programme.

The Airbus investment does not place any more financial burdens on Ottawa, two sources close to the case said.

The sources, who requested anonymity, also said the deal would have no effect on a separate dispute between Canada and Boeing over a proposed purchase of 18 Super Hornet jets.

The government has frozen contacts with Boeing's military wing until the company drops its challenge against the CSeries.

Bombardier said the deal would not result in job losses and would keep the head office in Montreal. Unions said the deal would benefit the programme.

"Ultimately, the US actions have created a stronger Bombardier," said Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, which represents some of Bombardier's unionized workers in Canada.

The Boeing-Bombardier dispute has snowballed into a bigger multilateral trade dispute, with British prime minister Theresa May asking the US president Donald Trump to intervene in order to save British jobs.

Bombardier is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland, which is the poorest of the United Kingdom's four constituent parts and remains mired in political sensitivities after emerging from decades of armed sectarian conflict.

The leader of the Northern Irish party propping up Britain's minority government said the Airbus deal was "incredibly significant news" for Belfast.

Talks for the deal between Airbus and Bombardier first started in August. Mr Enders said the deal was different from an earlier round of talks in 2015, when he abruptly ordered an end to negotiations. He said the CSeries' has since been certified, entered service and was performing well.

"It's an entirely different situation," he said.

Delta Air Lines, which ordered 75 CSeries planes, said after the announcement that it looked forward to introducing the aircraft into its fleet.

Under the deal, Bombardier will own about 31 per cent, while Investissement Québec, the investment arm of the province of Quebec, will hold 19 per cent. In 2015, Quebec took a 49 per cent stake in the CSeries programme for $1bn, although its stake was more recently diluted to 38 per cent.

Quebec's largest pension fund, which holds a 30 per cent stake in Bombardier's rail division, said the decision strengthened the company and improved its growth prospects.

Bombardier is in the middle of a five-year turnaround plan after considering bankruptcy because of a cash-crunch as it developed multiple plane programmes simultaneously, including the CSeries.

The deal also provides Airbus warrants exercisable to acquire up to 100 million Class B Shares of Bombardier.

Airbus will provide procurement, sales and marketing, and customer support expertise to Csalp, the companies said.

There will be no cash contribution by any of the partners, nor will Csalp assume any financial debt, they added.

Bombardier expects a $400m loss in commercial aircraft this year, but has set a break-even target for 2020.