After a long drought of orders or even LOIs and MOUs, the Mitsubishi MRJ program saw some life at this Farnborough Air Show.
Sales of Japan’s first commercial airplane since the propeller-era’s YS-11 stalled with orders from SkyWest Airlines, Trans States Airlines and Japan’s ANA.
But at the FAS, Mitsubishi announced an MOU with Eastern Air Lines, a US start-up carrier, for up to 40 and a much smaller order for six from Air Mandalay.
The Eastern MOU can fairly come under scrutiny if for no other reason than the company is a start-up. Little is known about its financial fund raising and the business model–to begin as a charter airline and transition to a scheduled carrier in the highly competitive US Southeast–doesn’t instill a lot of confidence. EAL, named after the old trunk carrier that went out of business in 1991, has also ordered the Boeing 737-800 after initially announcing plans to begin service with the Airbus A320.
There are now 375 orders and commitments for the MRJ90. No orders or commitments have been placed for the MRJ70. SkyWest is by far the largest customer, with 100+100 orders and options.
The MRJ program has been hit with delays, which seems to be part of the business model of any new aircraft program these days. The MRJ90 is at least two years late. Some of the delays are due to this being Mitsubishi’s first effort at designing and building an airplane. This so-called Japanese Heavy is a major subcontractor on the Boeing 787 program designing and building the wings. Issues arose during the production phase of the first test airplanes, contributing to the four years of delays for Boeing’s new airplane.
Mitsubishi had planned to use a composite wing for the MRJ, drawing upon its experience with the 787, but later changed to pursue a traditional metal wing design. Officials said that the small regional airliner could not benefit from a composite wing in the same way larger aircraft could (although the somewhat larger Bombardier CS100 uses a composite wing). Speculation at the time suggested Mitsubishi decided to go with the simpler wing after the 787 wing challenges emerged.
The MRJ selected the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbo Fan to power the airplane, which at the time placed the airplane at a distinct advantage to the Embraer E-170/175/190, which use the GE CF34. However, since then EMB selected the GTF for its E2 program, erasing a fair amount of MRJ’s advantage. Delays in the MRJ program, with EIS slipping to 2017, further narrowing any advantage Mitsubishi had over Embraer; the competing E-190 E2 is slated to enter service in 2018.
Wings and engines have been joined on the first MRJ Flight Test Vehicle. As we noted this week, Mitsubishi will use Moses Lake (WA) as the location for flight testing.