160-seat CSeries - a Big Squeeze?

I am 6ft 4in and XXXlb, so when I hear the words "28-inch seat pitch" they strike horror into my bones. But those very words, along with "slimline seats" and "comfortable cabin" were uttered by Bombardier vice president CSeries program Rob Dewar at the March 7 unveiling of the first aircraft.

He was confirming that Bombardier is not only offering, but has sold an "extra capacity" 160-seat version of the 110/130-CSeries. It's not quite as bad as it sounds. At least they have stretched the fuselage of the baseline CS300 by a seat-row - to 135 seats at 32in pitch - before cramming another 25 passengers in there by reducing seat pitch to the dread 28in.

Dewar is a big guy (above right, next to Mike Arcamone). He says he fits in the CSeries seat at 28in pitch...

When they first offered a 160-seat version to AirAsia, it was just the original 130-seat CS300 with another six - yes, six - seat rows jammed in. I shudder to think what the seat pitch was to be. AirAsia said no thank you. AirBaltic is among the CSeries customers that have said yes please to the new extra-capacity version, but will only install 148 seats.

In addition to stretching the fuselage by a seat-row, Bombardier will install a second pair of overwing exits and increase the maximum takeoff weight to carry more fuel and preserve range. For the first time in the industry, Dewar says, customers will be able to have the extra exits installed during production or retrofitted in service to increase capacity. Structural provisions for the second pair will be built into the basic aircraft.

Bombardier Commercial Aircraft president Mike Arcamone  says the 160-seat version will have a cash operating cost per seat 8% lower than the baseline 135-seat CS300. Dewar says the 160-seater will have the same seat-mile cost as a 180-seat aircraft, so that airlines that cannot fill the larger aircraft can still have the same cost advantage.

What this extra-capacity version says about Bombardier's market-positioning strategy for the CSeries is not clear. The baseline CS100 and CS300 are targeted at the 100- to 149-seat sector - esi,mated at 7,000 aircraft over 20 years - to avoid competing directly the A320 and 737 families. The high-density version ventures in Airbus and Boeing territory, but slow sales of the CSeries may be driving Bombardier to risk taking on the Big Two more directly.

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