Mitsubishi sets stage for announcement at Paris

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By Bryan Corliss

May 10, 2019, © Leeham News: Senior officials of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. said they’ll announce a new concept to replace their proposed MRJ70 at next month’s Paris Air Show. But they’re keeping details to themselves until then.

“We’ve got a couple rabbits in our hat,” said Alex Bellamy, the chief development officer for the MRJ program. “We’d like to keep them in our hat for now. But rabbits have a habit of bouncing.”

Bellamy spoke with a handful of industry reporters Friday at a roundtable following the formal grand opening of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp America’s new office in Renton (WA). The event – which included the ceremonial opening of sake barrels with hammers–attracted senior executives from MITAC’s headquarters in Nagoya, Japan, and local business and government leaders.

Mitsubishi is flight-testing the 92-seat MRJ90 in the skies above Moses Lake (WA). But in Nagoya, engineers are working on a clean-sheet design for a 76-seat, three-class regional jet.

It’s what the market is calling for, Bellamy said, and right now, there’s a declining number of competitors willing to provide it.

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‘Once in 50-years Opportunity’

MITAC (insiders pronounce the acronym “me-tack”) is entering into the regional jet market during what Bellamy calls “maybe a once in 50-years opportunity.” Bombardier has decided to exit the regional jet market, leaving only Brazilian side of the Boeing-Embraer joint venture actively producing the smaller jets. Chinese and Russian regional jets are in service, but are years away from being strong competitors.

And while the competition is shrinking, there does appear to be real demand for regional jets. In the United States, 63% of airports with commercial jet service are served solely by regional jets, MITAC executives say. More than 90% of the USA’s airports have regional jet service.

Analysts with Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) issued a report in January that airlines could buy between 10,000 and 12,000 regional aircraft over the next 20 years, as airlines seek growth through serving more mid-size cities and also replace early RJs built during the industry’s early years in the 1990s.

Mitsubishi’s own market estimates aren’t as bullish, but the company still projects sales of more than 5,000 regional jets, with more than a third of them going to North American operators.

“This is not a shrinking market,” Bellamy said.

But to capture the North American share of the market, MITAC is going to have to come in with a smaller plane. So-called “Scope Clauses” with the Air Line Pilots Association–the union for commercial jet pilots–mandate significantly higher pay rates for crews flying large, mainline jets. The cut-off is generally 76 seats, though it may be more or less depending on the contact, about 86,000 lbs maximum take-off weight. MITAC is working on a Scope-compliant design. This will be the only Scope-compliant, new generation regional jet.

Clean sheet 76-seater

Assuming it’s formally announced at Paris, the new design–Bellamy and his team don’t want to call it an MRJ70 replacement–will have a significant advantage over its big sister, the MRJ90. The new plane will be “refreshed to the marked that exists today,” he said.

For starters, he said, the new plane will have the advantage of new engines, systems and materials that weren’t available when Mitsubishi started work on the MRJ90, some 15 years ago.

And it will be oriented toward what airlines want today, he said. The original concept for a single-class 70-seat design has been scrapped in favor of a plane that can offer three classes of service.

Airlines want that for two reasons, Bellamy said: first-class and premium economy seating offer more opportunities for revenue, and they also offer a more-seamless passenger experience, similar to the one offered by airlines’ larger main-line fleets.

“Bringing in a premium passenger experience is what airlines want to do,” he said.

The proposed new concept will have fundamentally the same airframe as the original MRJ70 proposal, and it will incorporate common features for pilots, he said.

MITAC’s vice president of strategy and business, David Barrow, said the company has been in talks with both potential buyers for the new concept plane and potential suppliers for it. Both have shown enthusiasm, he said.

Renton office to be ‘heart of United States’

The grand opening celebration, which included remarks (in English) from MITAC’s CEO and a ceremonial cracking of a sake barrel, was a coming-out party for the company’s new US headquarters.

Most analysts say that North America is the biggest market for regional jets, with anywhere from 30% to 40% of the global fleet based on the continent. Given that, it makes sense for MITAC to have a major presence close to its customers, Bellamy said.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. CEO Misakazu Mizutani agreed, and said it’s particularly important for the company to be in Seattle, given MITAC’s global asperations.

The United States is a “very important growth market,” he said during the ceremony. “Our key partners are here in Washington. It makes business sense to establish our US headquarters in this global aviation hub.”

It also makes sense for the company to be in the Northwest as it builds up a robust customer service operation, which Mitsubishi didn’t need when it was a Tier 1 supplier to Boeing, Mizutani told reporters afterward.

“This is a big challenge for a Japanese company,” he said. “We need global experts’ power and ability. It’s very important, I think.”

MITAC needs to be in Seattle, because that’s where one of the biggest pools of aerospace talent lies, Bellamy said.

“Talent is difficult to come by,” he said. “You’ll see us hiring more here. You’ll see us adding more job types here.

“Seattle will be the heart of the United States for us.”

Always have Paris

MITAC is close to adding a fifth MRJ90 to its Moses Lake-based flight test fleet, Bellamy said. But while it’s likely to make a big announcement at Paris, it’s not likely to be flying an aircraft there.

Bellamy said the company’s priority it to keep planes flying their test flights, and while it may bring in a plane for one or two days of static displays, it’s not planning to do a demonstration flight.

If it does announce plans for a revised 76-seater, or perhaps new orders for the MRJ90, that would be a major splash for a program that has struggled with delays for nearly 15 years.

It seems likely that the company will be making some big news at Le Bourget.

“We’re pretty excited about where we are and where we’re going,” said spokesman Jeff Dronen. “We’ll have a lot to talk about at Paris.”

29 Comments on “Mitsubishi sets stage for announcement at Paris

  1. Very interesting, but I can’t help but wonder at a few pieces of data;

    1. Clean sheet: this is an all new aircraft with new materials/tech.
    2. It has a big sister MRJ90.
    3. 3 classes @ 76, not 1 at 70.

    I am suspicious this will re-use the MRJ90 and a somewhat more sophisticated (in light of EMB’s lack of an E170E2) shrink, but not an “all new” aircraft. It’s taken a massive amount of effort/rework to get the MRJ90 basically to certification, and I can’t see a great likelihood of an “all new” aircraft from Mitsubishi. They have a great product and are on the cusp of producing/delivering it. Hopefully they do so and develop a breadth of derivatives from there (MRJ100 and MRJ75 perhaps).

  2. So they are going to invest in a clean sheet MRJ 76? How long and how much? Will it have to have a new certification process? What if BBD decides to refresh the CRJ in conjuction with Airbus or a Chinese partner?

  3. I think this is a lot of hoopla with a mildly updated MRJ76.

    Engines may be moderately updated to current standards and possibly the PIPII coming but seeing as how a 737 is still viable competitive wise (albeit updated) then there is not much gain these days sans a TBW or the like.

    Pretty much the Pledge new updated and improved in a new prettier package.

    • I believe that is the case. Maybe some extra weight reduction with some composite parts, or interior reconfiguration. Any change which involves new wings or new closed-loop FBW architecture to gain more performance would be at least 3 to 5 years away from now. And from the article this aircraft seems to be a solution for the short term replacing the already planned MRJ70.

        • Not sure what stick to surface is.

          Open loop would be commands with no indication of what that command did (ie a resister on a pot that told the system how much the command translated into monument)

          Closed loop is the resister (or other methods) of showing what the result of the output is.

          My HVAC Bldg fans would be open loop, they put out a set temperature. Fan does not know how spaces are affected.

          A variation is to take the room temp sensors and combine them into a matrix and have the Fan Temp reset lower if any given room is showing too warm.

    • Weight and cost optimization most likely and to have as big capacity/range possible under US scope clausule rules. It can aslo be a better wing design using Gulfstream G500 PWC PW800 Engines.

      • The PW800 is not a GTF. There is a trade off in Business Jet costs vs the maint aspects fort what you gain.

        Ergo, the GTF on the MRJ is going to deliver better SPC though it cost more and is more complex mechanically and maint wise.

        • A typical trade off. Lighter and maybe cheaper vs heavier and more efficient. Mitsubishi can keep the Zero Fuel Mass and reduce MTOW on the MRJ70 to stay within scope clause I guess or modify it to a more optimal light weight, cheaper Aircraft with less range that is within scope rules but much more efficient than the corresponding ERJ175-CRJ900’s and be its natural replacement Aircraft. By Paris we will see.

          • Keep in mind that they are not as durable either.

            Where the the PW800 falls in I don’t know, its core is GTF but the materials can be less capable as BJs don’t fly nearly as much as commercial aircraft.

            So its a burn, engine build and materials cost vs simplicity, lower cost materials and eights as well.

  4. The MRJ 70 is 2500 lbs over scope, the 90 is 8000 llbs over. So an optimzed 76 seater would be about 4000 lbs over? It will take some serious reengeering work to cut that weight. I am guessing they will switch too the PW800 engine which will save 1400 lb but increase fuel burn. Still need ton find abother 2400 lbs which is a lot.

    • They can’t afford the efficiency hit the PW800 would hit them with.

      2500 lbs weight reduction is doable. The 787-8 was way over weright, the 787-9 with the knowledge of flight and tests they took out that weight and got it under.

      MRJ is going to be overbuild and they can take weight out.

      The 90 is not going to go there but the 70 surely can

  5. The MRJ70 isnt over the scope MTOW

    ‘The lighter MRJ70 is now the focus for the US market. It’s fine weight-wise, but its cabin is on the small side. In the preferred, two or three class cabins of the US Majors, the MRJ70 would seat less than 70 passengers. The scope limit is 76 seats.”

    The MRJ90 with the 76 seats in multi class as maximum in US regional/scope flying and reduced fuel payload to get below 86k lbs has a range below 1000nm.

    Maybe the test flying results and a GTF ‘pip’ can restore some of the extra range needed ?
    ‘The competing Embraer E175 ( old version) and Bombardier CRJ900 seat 76 passengers in a three-class configuration.
    It may only need just under 1500nm to match the CRJ900

    • They are going to have to do better per the A220, flexibility is the key now.

      If not trans con US then 2/3, call it 2000 to 2200. .

      • I really don’t think a RJ need to have same range as a small mainline narrowbody

      • Versions of RJ are available as ER and LR, offering increased range, but these arent sold in US market where scope clauses are king. Forget about competing with A220 or bigger E2 series when they are used as mainline planes outside scope.

        • MRJ give the following ranges for different versions of the MRJ90
          These may improve after announcement /model changes ??

          std 1150nm
          ER 1550nm
          LR 2040nm
          as a scope compliant 76 seater it would be just under 1000nm

        • The MRJ 70 is listed at 88,266 MTOW

          As scope is 86,000 that is 2,266 over

          Other sources list the MRJ as compliant, does not look like it.

        • You can add in to drop fuel to make limits on weight, that is 10% off.

          You get some bonus from not lifting the full load so that in turn would be less than 10% route mileage loss.

  6. I think this explains it.

    Clearly the STD is allowed less fuel and only 1020 NM range.

    Is that enough to function as needed?

    Maybe that is the need to revamp so much to get weight out, range up.

  7. Without prejudge, I looked at a CRJ re-engine, specifically the 76 seat segment. Adding the proven (Global 7500s) GE Passport “mini LEAP” engines increase engine dry weight by about 2t.

    Stretching the front fuselage to restore balance, around the same adding around 3-4t empty weight overall.

    Such a CRJ-800 Passport would easily be within the 39 t DL / AA / UA 76seat MTOW scope clause and still be able to fly 1600NM.

    I know the dire straits situation the BBD CRJ program is in at this stage. But purely from a low risk, scope clause compliant proposition, it doesn’t look bad at all.

    The CRJ’s are cramped, luggage haters & BBD wants to step out. But the airframe is light, proven and many CRJ’s are in service up for replacement.

    Maybe like the CSeries, the CRJ is not a bad buy at all..

    • Does sound reasonable, the question is how well the Passport optimized for ultra long range biz jet flying fits the pretty harsh Life of a regional Jet. A bit like the BR710 vs BR715 where the BR715 had to be upgraded pretty quick to survive the ValueJet operations.

      • You are correct the Global’s are for a different cycle / flight hour optimization than more typical regional operations. Looking at required thrust, it seems the Passport has some margin to de-rate, slightly lowering temperatures and improve time-on-wing. It would be up to GE to negotiate longer term PBH contracts with operators.

        I could see GE back such a CRJ Passport initiative. The CF-34 dominance in this segment over the last decades is being seriously challenged by Pratt.. They “lost” Embraer/Boeing. The GE Passport is a brand new engine, in need of scale, applications / ROI.

  8. Could Mitsubishi really afford to develop a clean sheet aircraft?
    To certify it, it would take a good 4 to 5 years.
    In the meantime, they have to finalize the certification of the MRJ90.
    Now the “clean sheet” design is aimed at a 3 Class 76PAX aircraft, for the Scope Clause market.
    That means Mitsubishi would have sufficient resources to remain out of the Scope Clause market for another 5 years, developing a scope compliant aircraft. By then, the Scope Clause will be renegotiated again and might relax to allow the MRJ90.
    A lot of effort required for little or no results.

    Scope renegotiation is happening or about to start at the 3 US majors, without anyone in the industry seeing a relaxation.
    Bombardier seems to fade out of the regional market.
    With an ageing regional fleet to renew and traffic increase in the coming years, Mitsubishi cannot afford to leave Embraer untouched on the North American market, THE regional market.
    Mitsubishi Scope compliant aircraft needs to be ready now.

    • Likely not a new aircraft, probably re-sizing the MRJ to needly meet scope clause requirements.

      • Funnily enough a scope compliant MRJ90 would have enough range to match that of the original 737-100, and even this detail for the DC9 , I’m reading about now from an avation report dated Oct 65
        Mtow 77,700lb, 90 pass, range 1000 – 1500 miles with 50 pass. That’s with 2x JT8D-5 with 12000lbs thrust.

  9. Lot of bucks for an aircraft that you can’t use.

    The MRJ76 makes more sense and clearly its a simple update to the interior and maybe some cockpit stuff that the MRJ90 will pioneer and get as well.

    Sure you hit any low hanging materials fruit that can be subbed in without a major re-do and lighten it up so you can get more range.

    Latest PIP of the GTF and good to go.

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