Canada pushed for Airbus deal as Bombardier courted China


Bombardier’s most recent discussions about a Chinese tie-up centered on Comac, a Chinese state-owned firm developing passenger jets, according to a source familiar with the Canadian company’s thinking. Financial terms of any potential deal were not known. Comac did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sources said Comac was also among the companies Bombardier held talks with in 2015, along with national aerospace conglomerate AVIC and possibly a state-owned investment fund.

For Bombardier, a tie-up with the Chinese would have offered access to the world’s fastest-growing aviation market, providing a boost to its struggling CSeries program. Bombardier has not a secured CSeries sale in 18 months.

Inside Bombardier, however, executives worried that talks with potential Chinese partners were not moving quickly enough, according to sources.

With discussions stalled, Bombardier approached Boeing last spring, three of the sources said. Bombardier offered Boeing a stake in the CSeries under similar terms to those later offered to Airbus, two of the sources said.

The U.S. company agreed to study the proposal, but eventually decided against it based on its experience with a troubled purchase of Canadian aerospace assets in the late 1980s.

That once again Bombardier’s focus back on a deal with the Chinese – until Ottawa pressed the case for discussions with Airbus over the summer.

Asked why senior Canadian federal officials suggested to Bombardier that it talk to Airbus, the Ottawa source said: “People felt that Bombardier might not have thought of this option, given the collapse of the earlier talks.”

Officials from Airbus and Bombardier soon began what would be a series of meetings at restaurants in Paris, London and Munich. The meetings involved only four people – the two CEOs along with another executive from each company. A representative of the Canadian government did not attend.

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