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Canadian-built jets have been familiar to many passengers for some time now, but until last year, their teeny-tiny design and 2-2 seating left travelers feeling a bit squished. Last June, Bombardier began delivering its largest models ever, the CS100 and CS300, and they’re some of the most comfortable jets you’ll ever encounter.
At the 2016 Farnborough Air Show, we took a tour of the CS100, a plane built for launch customer Swiss. During the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg earlier this month, TPG was offered a tour of the larger CS300, thanks to Hamburg Aviation. Early on day one of the convention, I had the opportunity to watch the arrival of the very first revenue flight for Air Baltic‘s third CS300.
Let’s look at how the two models differ…
In terms of passenger capacity, the Swiss CS100 holds 125, while Air Baltic outfitted its CS300 with 145 seats in a single-class configuration. The CS100 is 114 feet, 9 inches long, while the CS300 is 127 feet long. They share the exact same height, wingspan and fuselage diameter. Their range capabilities are close, but the CS300 can fly an extra 230 miles over its smaller counterpart. And because of its extra weight, the CS300 needs a bit more runway on which to take off and land. From the passenger point of view, there isn’t much difference other than the cabin length.
Bombardier says the C Series is “designed to give a wide-body feel in a single-aisle aircraft,” but I would argue that it’s done even better than that. On C Series jets, 18 inch-wide seats are standard, while the seats on the Boeing jets you’re familiar with can be as narrow as 17 inches, as you’ll find on planes like United’s new 777-300ER. Feel like rubbing shoulders with fellow economy passengers, for up to 16 hours? The 787 Dreamliner is your bird. But I digress.
The CS300 cabin is configured in rows of five seats in a 3-2 configuration, so it does have some middle seats, but there’s nothing to fear.
The Air Baltic CS300 has the greatest average seat width and widest middle seat of any single-aisle aircraft, at 19 inches wide. Bombardier marketed this extra-wide middle seat to attract airline customers, but Swiss stuck with a uniform 18 inches at every seat. I sat in the middle seat and it actually felt roomy, making me wish all economy seats were this wide. The seat pitch is only 30 inches, but I didn’t feel cramped, in spite of being 5’10”.
The cabin itself is very attractive as well. The overhead bins are spacious, and large enough to store luggage in its side.
The windows at every row seem huge in comparison to the A320 and 737 aircraft families. As with many newer-model planes, the LED lighting can be changed into dozens of schemes.
Its 3,300 nautical mile range means it can fly from New York JFK to Vancouver International Airport (YVR) without a stop.
Last April, Delta ordered 75 of the smaller CS100, with options for 50 more. Many industry insiders believe that order may have saved the C Series program, if not Bombardier as a whole. There’s no doubt that Delta got a significant discount off the $76.5 million sticker price. The larger CS300 lists for $85.7 million. In comparison, one of the smallest Airbus jets — the A319 — lists for $89.6 million. Airbus also makes the smaller A318, but they haven’t sold well, and no airline has taken delivery of a new one since 2013. Boeing’s smallest plane — the 737-700 — lists for $80.6 million.
I spoke to Air Baltic’s CS300 Chief Pilot, Gerhard Ramcke, and asked him what it’s like to fly the CS300: “It’s absolutely perfect. It’s a lovely aircraft to fly. For a single-aisle it’s the most modern you can get. Everything else, it’s a re-engine or redesign [speaking about the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX].” Captain Ramcke said Air Baltic will receive 20 CS300s. The one I toured in Hamburg was only the third CS300 delivery to the airline. It’ll get five more this year, eight more in 2018, and four in 2019. Air Baltic will be replacing its Boeing 737 fleet with CS300s. It currently has 11 older model 737s in its fleet, so the order of 20 CS300s will bring some growth to the airline as well.
Air Baltic is based in Riga, Latvia. Ramcke said that, this summer, the airline will begin flying the CS300 to Malta, Nice and Rome. This fall, it’ll add CS300 service to Tenerife and Abu Dhabi.
The C Series entered service over two years behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. Bombardier took a lot of flak last month when it was announced corporate executives would receive huge salary bonuses in spite of massive layoffs and a bailout from the Canadian government.
All photos courtesy of the author, Paul Thompson.
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