The industry rumor mill has been rumbling about this for months. Today it is official. Further to the framework agreement signed on March 24, 2011, Jin Zhuanglong,  Chairman, Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd (COMAC) and Pierre Beaudoin, President and Chief Executive Officer, Bombardier Inc. today signed a definitive agreement covering program commonalities between the C919 and CSeries. More specifically, the two aircraft manufacturers agreed to cooperate on four distinctive projects to be executed as part of the first phase of COMAC and Bombardier’s long-term collaboration on the C919 aircraft and the CSeries families of commercial airliners.The four initiatives on which COMAC and Bombardier will be collaborating as part of this initial phase are commonality on:

  1. The cockpit human-machine (crew) interfaces
  2. The electrical system
  3. The development of aluminum-lithium standards and specifications, and
  4. Areas of customer services in terms of technical publications and co-location of teams.

All four projects are expected to be completed over the next 12 months and in conjunction with the C919 aircraft development schedule. This first collaborative phase further reinforces the strategic long-term relationship between COMAC and Bombardier and demonstrates the complementary nature of the C919 and CSeries programs. Both parties will continue exploring other possibilities for cooperation with regards to aircraft program commonalities, joint procurement, synergies in development and customer services, as well as collaboration on Bombardier and COMAC programs.

The strategy is less opaque – there is the beginning of a family approach. Bombardier might be able to point to a larger model that many have been asking about. The company has always said it does not want to enter the 150+ seat market. Simultaneously COMAC gets a partner that can move its program ahead – something it needs as it has to work through the ARJ program which is holding back the C919. It also is able to benefit from having smaller models of a family to tie into.

Airlines now appear to have a new choice of aircraft ranging from 100 to 200 seats. But many questions will now emerge – what about the engines? CSeries is GTF powered while C9191 is CFM/LEAP powered.  Obviously lots of details have to emerge. But a deal that seems to tie the CSeries and C919 together, however tenuously, is potentially quite disruptive. (Is this an idea Michael O’Leary has been waiting for?)

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