It’s a familiar setting – an overbooked flight, a cramped and dimly lit cabin, no room for bags in the overhead. This is the reality of today’s small commercial and regional jet travel. Expect nothing more, fellow flyers.
But some hope is on the way, as newly designed airplanes offer better amenities and a more enjoyable passenger experience. One plane designed by the Canadian company, Bombardier, is already in service and has received kudos from operators and passengers in Europe where it operates with two airlines, Swiss Air and airBaltic.
The Bombardier C Series aircraft was designed with some consumer-friendly features. It has wider seats, wider aisles, larger windows, more carry-on storage space, larger bathrooms and taller ceilings – all big improvements over many aircraft in service today. In addition to a more comfortable passenger experience, the planes are more fuel efficient and have much quieter engines than any aircraft in its class. In other words, it is the type of flying option that the American flying public would want to consider. That is, unless Boeing gets its way.
Next year, Delta airlines is set to become the first C Series operator in the United States, when it plans to take delivery of it first CS100 aircraft from Bombardier. Delta recently announced that it will use these new 100-seat aircraft to replace older 76 seat regional jets and to open new routes. This is a welcomed option for passengers accustomed to smaller jets with less amenities or those in markets with limited service today. Unfortunately, Boeing is trying to prevent this from happening.
Boeing, the poster child for government subsidies and crony capitalism, has recently filed a complaint with U.S. trade regulators alleging that Bombardier has been unfairly subsidized by the Canadian government and that C Series sales will harm its ability to sell 737 aircraft. Boeing is asking the government to impose huge import tariffs on the C Series in an attempt to keep the aircraft out of the United States.
Boeing’s complaint, however, makes no sense.
As a starting point, Boeing hasn’t manufactured a plane with the same seating capacity as the CS100 for decades. In fact, Delta told the U.S. trade regulators that Boeing didn’t compete for the order won by Bombardier because it simply didn’t have the right size plane. The Boeing planes were too big and uneconomical for Delta’s intended flights, and operating such planes would mean flying a large number of empty seats resulting in higher airline operating costs and increased prices for passengers. On top of that, Boeing would not have been able to deliver its larger planes until 2020 because of its large back log.
What becomes clear when looking at the underlying facts of this case is that it is not really about government support for Bombardier, but rather an attempt by Boeing to stymie a potential future competitor irrespective of the additional cost or inconvenience to the American consumer. Indeed, Delta’s post conference submission sums up the situation perfectly – Boeing is asking US regulators to find that it has been harmed by a sale it was never in the position to make. For this reason alone, consumers should be outraged.
In the age of flying cattle cars, consumers are seeking alternatives to the current flight experience. The C Series seems to offer airlines a solution. It is unbecoming of an American company like Boeing, who prides itself on a spirit of innovation, to attempt to block flying options for American consumers in a market segment that Boeing has long ago abandoned.
It is clear to those of us who fly frequently that the commercial aircraft duopoly Boeing is fighting to protect has proven to be anti-competitive, anti-consumer and contributed to the decline in passenger experience. Competition spurs innovation, lower prices and more consumer choices.
Instead of pursuing protectionist retribution at the behest of Boeing, U.S. regulators should embrace market competition and recognize the call of the American consumer for more choice in the aviation marketplace.
This op-ed is available on the Huffington Post.