MONTREAL — Air Canada has officially become North America’s launch operator of the Airbus A220-300. The Canadian flag carrier unveiled the new single-aisle jet to the public before its planned entry into service on January 16 on the busy Montreal-Calgary route.
Air Canada took delivery of its first A220-300 on December 20, 2019. Since then, the airline has been testing the jet throughout its domestic network, getting its crew familiarized and ready for a January 16 entry into service.
The first Air Canada A220-300—part of a 45-plane order placed in 2016—is the first of its type to enter commercial operations in North America. Currently, only Delta Air Lines operates the A220’s smaller variant, the A220-100, on diverse routes across the United States. However, Air Canada will be the only airline operating the A220-300 until Delta takes delivery of its first unit later in the year.
Looking Back: Air Canada Extends A Lifeline To Bombardier
In February 2016, Bombardier and Air Canada announced the subscription of a Letter of Intent (LoI) for the purchase of up to 75 CSeries CS300 (now Airbus A220-300). The deal contemplated 45 firm orders plus 30 options and included conversion rights to the CS100 (A220-100). Based on the list price, the order was valued at approximately US$3.8 billion.
The announced aircraft order came as part of the narrowbody fleet renewal plan of Air Canada, which started in December 2013 with the acquisition of 61 Boeing 737 MAXs.
The plans outlined the retirement of 45 Embraer E190s—of which 20 would be taken by Boeing as part of the 737 MAX deal, while the remaining 25 aircraft would be replaced by the A220.
At the time of the order’s announcement, Vinay Bhaskara, Senior Business Analyst at Airways, noted that the timing of Air Canada’s order, coming on the heels of a nearly 15-month order drought for the CSeries, naturally raised the question of political factors playing a role in the purchase.
“Beyond the standard pressure on airlines around the world to purchase aircraft from national manufacturers, the specific dynamics of Bombardier’s financial situation definitely played a role in the order,” Bhaskara said.
At the time, the Quebec government was one of Bombardier’s largest shareholders, having acquired 49.5% of the assets of the CSeries program in return for a $1 billion cash infusion. “And it just so happens that on the same day that Air Canada buys the CSeries—completely by coincidence—Quebec drops an outstanding lawsuit against Air Canada for reneging on previous agreements to keep its maintenance operations in Quebec,” said Bhaskara.
But putting aside any potential influence from politics into the airline’s fleet renewal program, it was publicly known that Air Canada was also considering adding either Boeing 737 MAX 7 aircraft to its existing MAX order or placing an order for the Embraer E-2 to replace a mix of E190s and Airbus A319 aircraft. And when comparing two products that were relatively equal—and a third from a manufacturer (Boeing) that had commonality and pricing power on its side—the political benefits were enough to tip the scales in favor of the CSeries.
Evidently, however, Air Canada would not have added the A220 to its fleet if it was an aircraft inherently inferior to the E195-E2.
Indeed, the A220 was a strong fit for E190 and A319 replacement. The E190s, in particular, operate shorter haul, high-frequency routes like Boston – Toronto; but they also operate on much longer routes such as from Calgary to Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto, and even from Ottawa to Cancun.
Canada, as a whole, is a large country with plenty of domestic and long and thin route pairs domestically and on trans-border long flights. The A220 is an aircraft perfectly suited for such routes.
As noted by Bhaskara in 2016, “Air Canada is getting a great airplane, and even in the current fuel environment, the double-digit reduction in fuel consumption offered by the A220 does matter.”
“The operating cost gap for a new A220 over a used and inexpensive A319 narrows, and in some case reverses. But Bombardier likely gave Air Canada an excellent deal on these aircraft as it was desperate for positive momentum on the program, so Air Canada will undoubtedly get an aircraft with excellent operating costs,” he concluded.
As of November 2019, the A220 had logged 530 orders, with more than 100 jets currently in service with six airlines. Air Canada became the seventh.
FIRST A220 ROLLS OUT OF THE ASSEMBLY LINE
Air Canada’s first Airbus A220 rolled out of the paint shop at Bombardier’s Mirabel facility in November 2019 and took off on its maiden flight in December.
At the time of delivery, the airline’s Deputy CEO, Michael Rousseau, noted that welcoming this plane into Air Canada’s fleet was “a highly anticipated moment” as it was “the next step in our fleet modernization.”
Currently, Air Canada boasts a mainline fleet of 79 narrow-body aircraft, composed of 65 Airbus A320 family jets, and 14 Embraer E190 aircraft. The new A220-300s will effectively replace all the remaining 14 E190s from the carrier’s mainline fleet.
Interestingly, the A220 not only represents an upgrade for the passenger in terms of comfort and technology but also in terms of head-to-head seating versus the E190 for the airline.
The A220 is fitted with a two-class configuration, offering passengers 12 seats in Business Class, laid out in a 2-2 configuration, and 125 in Economy Class, fitted with the A220’s signature 2-3 configuration, for a total of 137 seats.
In contrast, the Embraer E190s are equipped with nine seats in Business Class, and 88 in Economy, for a total of 40 fewer seats than the new A220 is equipped with.
According to the airline’s CEO, Air Canada’s customers “will benefit from the A220’s innovative design features, including a choice of two spacious and comfortable cabins, larger overhead bins, bigger windows and a quieter experience in flight.”
As originally predicted by Bhaskara, the new plane will allow Air Canada to launch routes that, according to the airline, were not feasible with its current fleet of 116 Airbus aircraft. New flights between Montreal and Seattle, and between Toronto and San Jose are two services that the carrier’s Embraer E-Jets and Airbus A319s could not perform efficiently.
It’s relevant to highlight that the A220-300 has also allowed airlines to launch longer-range routes such as Riga to Abu Dhabi while turning profits. The worldwide launch operator, airBaltic, has noted that this route was only possible with the efficiency that the A220-300 provides.
Initially, however, Air Canada’s A220s will also be deployed on domestic routes from the operating bases in Montreal and Toronto to cities such as Winnipeg, Ottawa, Calgary and across the border to New York, in addition to the aforementioned Seattle and San Jose landmarks.
ENTRY INTO SERVICE CEREMONY
On the morning of January 15, Air Canada hosted Government Officials, VIP guests, employees, and members of the press at its headquarters hangar at Montreal Airport.
As the airline has been based in Montreal since 1949, all the members of its corporate governance team were present, along with important government officials and Airbus executives.
The event took place within one of the airline’s hangars in Montreal. All together, Air Canada occupies more than 149,000 square meters of facilities adjacent to the Montreal Airport. In Quebec alone, the airline is responsible for more than 10,000 jobs.
As the event initiated, the Airbus A220-300 stood at the end of the dimmed building and a gigantic screen where the words Bienvenue / Welcome were shown next to the Air Canada Maple Leaf logo.
The airline’s CEO, Calin Rovinescu, addressed the crowd by thanking Bombardier for its efforts into bringing this project into reality.
Curiously, the aircraft’s registration (C-GROV), was unanimously chosen by Air Canada to commemorate Rovinescu’s long track as the CEO of Air Canada. He’s been in command of the carrier since 2009.
“The arrival of a new aircraft type is always a major event for an airline, it marks the beginning of a new chapter. We will remember it for a quarter of a century. Maybe forever,” Rovinescu said.
“Each new jetliner brings new capabilities and created new opportunities for Air Canada. The A220 especially so.”
The airline’s CEO remembered that “the Bombardier CSeries was a product of innovation, of risk, of disrupting the market. We know it almost didn’t make it,” he stressed.
Rovinescu also noted that he is pleased to have made a landmark order in 2016, “which paved the way for many other larger airlines, like Delta, JetBlue, and others to follow suit.”
The airline’s chief then stressed that the range and capacity of the A220 will open new markets, continue to expand to the carrier’s already extensive North American network.
Rovinescu ended his speech by congratulating Bombardier’s CEO, Alain Bellemare, “with whom we negotiated the final terms of our order,” he said.
“Bellmarre acted decisively not only in concluding our order but also by saving the CSeries program. He brought stability to a very complicated situation,” Rovinescu said.
Following the CEO’s remarks, Christian Scherer, Chief Commercial Officer at Airbus, also intervened, noting that “there are still a few special moments in this industry, and today is one of them.”
“It’s a great honor for Airbus to be here today, and to have our name plastered on this aircraft that’s being inaugurated,” he said. “This is a new chapter in what I hope will be a fruitful collaboration between Airbus and Air Canada.”
Scherer concluded by admitting that he really loves this aircraft. “It is one that sells itself.”
“Many happy landings to Air Canada, with its maple leaf, with this beautiful new plane,” he said.
Lastly, Alain Bellemare, President, and CEO, Bombardier, excitingly noted that this is a historic moment for his team as this is the best aircraft in the 100-150-seat segment. “We couldn’t be prouder to see our plane in Air Canada colors.”
At the end of the presentation, a video was shown with special effects, showcasing the aircraft’s capabilities and the airline’s pride to be taking delivery of a Canadian-made aircraft.
Tomorrow, Air Canada will launch the plane into service from Montreal to Calgary, initiating a new era for both the carrier and the Canadian-made product.