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Delayed arrival

The Mitsubishi MRJ programme has faced significant delays but as Angus Mackay and Stuart Rubin from ICF International analyse, there is still everything to play for
 

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MITAC), a joint venture of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toyota, launched the MRJ family of regional jets in 2007 with the ambitious intention of introducing a clean-sheet benchmark in regional jet design and capability. 

 

The family comprises the 78-seat MRJ70 and the 92-seat MRJ90 models, each offered in three variants: STD, ER & LR; with each variant featuring progressively increased MTOWs (Maximum Take Off Weight) and range capability. The MRJ is a modern, fly-by-wire aircraft that is powered by the Pratt & Whitney PW1200 series geared turbofan (GTF). This engine offers superior fuel burn, less noise footprint andis expected to have lower maintenance costs than current engines. 

 

The MRJ was intended to incorporate significant levels of composite structure in wing and fuselage structure, but this has been scaled back to around 15% of structure to reduce production risk and complexity. The initial MRJ90 model faces strong competition from both current and new-technology aircraft from Embraer in the E175, E175-E2, E190 and E190-E2 and Bombardier’s CRJ900. To a lesser extent, the larger E195, E195-E2, CRJ1000 and CSeries (CS100) will compete in growth markets, as will the ARJ21 in the important Chinese market. 

 

Embraer, in its 2016-2035 market Outlook Report, forecasts a demand over the period for 6,400 new 70-130+ seat jets, comprising 2,300 new 70-90 seat jets and a further 4,100 new 90-130+ seat jets. Since the programme was launched in 2007, the MRJ90 order book has grown and stood at 243 firm and 204 option orders from eight purchasers as of mid-2017. However, there have been no orders forthcoming for the MRJ70. 

 

The MRJ90 order backlog in the important North American market – where nearly 40% of 70-130+ seat RJs operate – is reasonably robust with Trans States Holdings and SkyWest Airlines each holding 50 firm and 100 option orders, while start-up operator Eastern Air Lines holds 20 firm orders and 20 purchase rights.

 

Confidence from the aircraft leasing sector has been registered with US-based lessor Aerolease, signing up for 10 firm and 10 option orders, with Swedish lessor Rockton holding a similar order book. Commercial success for the larger MRJ90, and stability of the order book, is likely to be driven by changes to current US Major’s pilot scope clauses which broadly limit aircraft greater than 76 seats and 86,000lbs MTOW to mainline operators. 

 

While the MRJ70 can comply, it has yet to fly, and there is some concern that US operator MRJ90 order contracts are subject to walk-away clauses in the event that pilot scope clause relief does not eventuate. Nevertheless, Embraer with its E2 series is subject to the same limitations and with neither delivering aircraft until 2020, some relief may eventuate over time. The MRJ programme has also been beset with numerous delays which have offset the benefits of first mover advantage and allowed competitors to catch up. 

 

The most recent two-year delay was to allow reconfiguration and certification of key avionics and wiring systems, and will now not see the MRJ90 introduced until mid-2020, seven years later than originally planned. Nevertheless, significant management structuring has occurred with key programme partners, investors and customers resolute in their faith in the project, in MITAC’s ability to execute on production ramp-up upon final certification, and institute the operational and customer support functions critical to compete on a global basis. 

 

Should key competitor Bombardier retreat from the market in favour of a focus on the larger CSeries, it is entirely possible Mitsubishi will be able to realise its goal of becoming one of the two major large regional jet OEMs by market share.


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