March 8, 2016, © Leeham Co.: Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan technology was what prompted a used airplane lessor to place its first new airplane order,
selecting the Mitsubishi MRJ90 in the process.
Jep Thornton is a partner with the small lessor Aerolease, a 20-year old company that has up to now concentrated on acquiring McDonnell Douglas DC-8s, Airbus A300s and Boeing 757s for conversion to cargo aircraft. Aerolease has about 40 aircraft under management and ownership.
Thornton and Mitsubishi announced at the Singapore Air Show last month a Letter of Intent to order for 10 MRJ90s and options for 10 more. Deliveries begin in three years.
“What happened on the MRJ is we became aware primarily by virtue of the Pratt Geared Turbo Fan,” Thornton told LNC in an interview during the annual ISTAT Americas conference last week in Phoenix (AZ). “We like that technology. We think that’s cool stuff. We looked at the [Bombardier] C Series way back. It was just too early [then] on a number of levels.
“I spent a lot of time in Hartford (PW’s home) and spent a lot of time looking at the geared turbo fan technology. We loved it. The MRJ has the geared turbo fan; that
was our focus,” he said. “Then we began looking at the MRJ. We looked at it in the context of two things. One, Mitsubishi is obviously a very strong, financially capable company. Secondly, they designed and built the 787 wing. They build the 777 parts. They clearly have the capability of designing aerodynamic structures. We love the engine. The Rockwell avionics are amazing.
“Lastly, we never saw ourselves as a new aircraft lessor, but nobody was ordering the airplane. We started talking to them seriously, and they responded. It wasn’t ‘get in line, take a number.’”
Thornton said Aerolease will be an “ambassador” for the aircraft, “a Western ambassador that understands marketing and understands technical and has a good relationship with Pratt & Whitney.”
There are more than 200 firm orders for the airplane, but more than half are from the USA’s SkyWest Airlines and Trans States Airlines. Because the US labor contracts between the pilots and the mainline carriers for whom these two carriers fly have Scope Clauses restricting the size of the airplanes, the ability of the MRJ90 to operate under these restrictions remains in doubt. The MRJ90 exceeds the weight limits currently in the contracts.
“The United States is not a market for our aircraft,” Thornton said. “We are not focusing on the United States at all because of that. There’s interest in this aircraft.”
The order represents a major change from Aerolease’s historical strategy.
Aircraft age has definitely become an issue with operators. The Middle of the Market aircraft with scaled geared turbo fan motors would be a killer aircraft for me.
“We have been evaluating several different strategies to accent the 757 strategy. We’ve been a bit of a one-trick pony for six years now. That’s kind of how we’ve been operating all the way back to 1988, with the DC-8 then the A300 and now the 757.
We’ve looked at a lot of things. We’ve looked at Airbus A321 conversions, which we still might do. We looked at getting involved in the [Boeing 737] 800 conversion business.
“I’d love to be the launch customer of the MOM,” Thornton said. “A single aisle 757 with the higher gear. Clearly the 737-9 is not the MOM.”