Bombardier refutes Estonian Air CEO's claim that CRJ900s uncompetitive

MONTREAL – Bombardier Aerospace is refuting a claim by Estonian Air’s new CEO that its three CRJ900s are uncompetitive for its routes and that their purchase two years ago was a mistake.

A spokesman for the Montreal-based manufacturer say the aircraft have lower cash operating costs than the Embraer planes the airline plans to sell as it cuts routes and shrinks its fleet size.

Published reports in Europe say chief executive Jan Palmer would prefer to get rid of the Bombardier planes but doing so is “currently nearly impossible” because it can’t find anyone to take over their long-term leases.

He said the 88-seat CRJs are not competitive in a market best suited for planes with less than 80 seats.

But Marc Duchesne of Bombardier disagreed.

“These aircraft are definitely top-of-the-line, defintely more efficient than the equivalent Embraers and they are absolutely a performing aircraft so we don’t understand why he’s planning to get rid of them,” he said in an interview Friday.

He declined to indicate if Estonia’s national carrier has approached Bombardier to dispose of the planes ordered in 2010 and delivered last year.

The airline plans to cut its workforce by more than half to 146 people as it trims its fleet to five planes serving nine or 10 core destinations, including Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, Oslo, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Vilnius and Trondheim.

It currently operates the three Bombardier planes, four Embraer E170s and three Saab 340s. Three Embraer E190s are due for delivery.

Bombardier analysts had predicted last year that Estonian Air could firm up an option for two planes after the Estonian government announced plans to invest 30 million euros (C$41.7 million) to renew the fleet and increase the number of flights it operates. The government owns 90 per cent of the carrier, with the SAS Group holding the rest.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Bombardier’s shares closed up one cent to $3.98 in Friday trading.