Commercial aviation marked a mini-milestone last week with the first successful test flight of Bombardier's C Series airliner, a new challenger for Boeing and Airbus in the 100- to 150-seat airliner market.
Bombardier has built a solid reputation for its business jets and regional aircraft, and now it's moving into the territory of the 737 and A320 families that dominate short- and medium-range markets worldwide.
The C series aircraft, with two wing-mounted engines, is similar in size but a bit longer and skinnier than a classic 737 and is designed to accommodate a similar number of passengers, but in a five-abreast layout. Like the latest 737s, it would have transcontinental range.
Frankly, we don't know if the world is big enough for three manufacturers in what has become a sweet spot for single-aisle aircraft.
Since the jet age began, consolidation has transformed aircraft manufacturing in the West almost as much as it has transformed the airline business. We've said good-bye to Convair, Lockheed, McDonnell-Douglas and a batch of lesser-known firms, while several of Europe's major builders have coalesced into Airbus.
We think today's airplanes are fabulous, but let's face it: north of 100 seats, the world's airlines have to buy from a duopoly. If anybody can break into the big time these days, it is a aircraft manufacturer with a track record, and Bombardier is in as good a position as anyone to make the leap.
So far, Bombardier has a modest 177 firm orders. Here's hoping for more.