Bombardier has finally disclosed a closely held secret by identifying one of China's top leasing companies as a previously unnamed customer for up to 30 of its new CSeries aircraft.
The Chinese buyer, CDB Leasing Co. Ltd., known as CLC, placed a conditional order for five CS100 and 10 CS300 aircraft in July 2012. The deal also provides an option on an additional five CS100s and 10 more CS300s.
Based on list prices, the initial contract would be worth about US$1.02 billion, or US$2.07 billion if all options were exercised.
"Following an in-depth analysis of existing and re-engined aircraft, the CSeries family of airliners, with its unmatched economics, advanced technology, excellent operational flexibility, as well as its outstanding performance, seemed like the obvious choice and shows great potential for operators in China and abroad," said CLC chairman Wang Chong.
The announcement was made in Beijing during a state visit by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston that included Chinese president Xi Jinping and Canadian ministers John Baird and Joe Oliver.
CLC is the third leasing company to buy the Bombardier aircraft. Russia's Ilyushin Finance and Lease Corporation International based in Dublin have also struck deals. Together, these companies have placed firm orders and have options for more than 100 aircraft or about a quarter of the 403 commitments received so far. Between 30 and 50 per cent of single-aisle aircraft are sold to leasing companies.
Philippe Poutissou, vice-president of marketing for Bombardier commercial aircraft, said having lessors in three key regions helps Bombardier to get access to more airlines and world markets.
"We are pleased to have a lessor of Chinese origin who has a sales forces that's well plugged into the Chinese airlines," he said in an interview from Toronto.
Poutissou said CLC wants to become a global player and lease aircraft outside of China.
While he would only say that the leasing firm kept its identity a secret until now due to "valid business reasons," Poutissou said the disclosure could help build momentum for Bombardier to attract additional orders.
He said the CSeries is well-suited to the Chinese market, which is building many regional airports, some in high altitude locations. China is expected to order 1,400 aircraft of between 110 and 149 seats over the next 20 years. That's about 20 per cent of global demand.
Analysts welcomed the announcement, saying the high-profile event suggests that the options will likely be converted to firm orders and that other Chinese customers will come on board.
"With a clean first flight, and what we expect to be further orders announced as flight test data is compiled over the next several months, Bombardier continues to move in the right direction with the CSeries program," Walter Spracklin of RBC Capital Markets wrote in a report.
He said the order should boost investor sentiment and increase analyst share price targets for the Montreal-based manufacturer (TSX:BBD.B).
Benoit Poirier of Desjardins Capital Markets said he's confident that Bombardier will achieve its target of 300 firm orders from 20 customers by the time the CS100 aircraft enters into service in about a year.
"We continue to believe Bombardier's backlog is poised for growth, and we are confident in the company's ability to take advantage of many near-term opportunities in transportation and aerospace (including substantive potential orders from American Airlines, Air Canada and Lion Air, among others)," he wrote.
Bombardier has focused a lot of its attention on the Chinese market. Part of the aircraft's fuselage is built in Shenyang and it has ramped up its relationship with Chinese aircraft manufacturer Comac to enhance commonalities between its CSeries and the C919 wide body aircraft from Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd.
Meanwhile, CSeries general manager Rob Dewar disclosed that it has completed three test flights of the CSeries that mainly assessed handling of the aircraft, tested landing gear and flaps, and reached an altitude of 25,000 feet and speed of 700 km/h. After reviewing data and completing ground testing, the coming tests flights will push the aircraft higher, faster and on more manoeuvres.
Four other CS100 test aircraft are in advanced stages of assembly.
Bombardier's shares closed up nine cents, or 1.8 per cent, at C$5.08 Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange. That's off the 52-week high of $5.18.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly stated the aircraft purchase date.