June 13, 2019, © Leeham News: Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. (MITAC)’s redesign of the MRJ70 and launch of the M100 SpaceJet in its place reflects a changing market environment when the MRJ program was launched more than a decade ago.
Then, MITAC—and Embraer—thought the restrictive US Scope Clause with the pilots’ unions of US major carriers would be relaxed by now.
MITAC launched the MRJ90 90-seat aircraft, to be followed by the MRJ70, a 70-seat airplane. Embraer launched the E175-E2 re-engined model of the popular E175.
Neither complied with Scope as then defined, specifically the maximum takeoff weight of 86,000 lbs. Each exceeded this limit by about a ton.
(There are restrictions as to the number of seats and number of airplanes that can be operated by regional airline partners, too, but it’s the weight limit that’s the key issue here.)
Both companies miscalculated. There is virtually no chance the weight limit will be raised, rendering the MRJ90 and E175-E2 non-Scope compliant.
Since the US market accounts for about 40% of small jet sales potential, new solutions are needed.
At Embraer, the solution, albeit not ideal, is to continue to offer the Scope-compliant E175 with its current generation CF34 engines.
For Mitsubishi, the MRJ70, which was to follow the MRJ90 by about 18 months, became the focus of a major set of improvements, not only reflecting the Scope requirements, but adding seats to the original design, slightly stretching the aircraft, redesigning the overhead bins space for more carry on luggage, and other changes.
The MRJ90 program continues toward a 2020 entry-into-service. The M100’s target EIS is 2023, later than the 2022 planned EIS for the MRJ70. The extra time is needed because of the extent of the redesign.
The MRJ90 eventually will get similar treatment, with the new airplane being designated the MRJ200. In the meantime, the MRJ90 is rebranded the M90 SpaceJet.
“SpaceJet” is not a name that immediately comes to mind with a small jet carrying fewer than 100 passengers. Rather, this would seem a natural for a widebody aircraft.
The MRJ was designed with 2×2 seating. When designed, a different era of overhead bins existed, which by today’s standards are small. (The E-Jet, designed in 2004 and famous for its spacious 2×2 seating, originally had tiny overhead bins, since improved.)
In tackling the enhancements for the MRJ70, MITAC sought to improve the passenger experience, creating more space at every touch point, designing larger bins for baggage space for every single passenger, wheels first, in three classes,” says Steve Haro, MITAC’s VP and Head of Global Marketing and Strategy.
With the bin redesign, the M100 can accommodate 20 more bags than E175-E1 and 30 more than CRJ900, he said.
The seats at 18 ½ inches wide, slightly more than the E-Jet and significantly wider than the CRJ.
MITAC also added space to the lavatory, reversing a trend at the mainline carriers where “Space Saver” lavs are installed on the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, drawing complaints from passengers and crews alike.
“’SpaceJet’ came out of a mantra that was around the company, find space where it matters,” Haro says.
Renaming the MRJ90 to M90 and the MRJ70 to M100 represented the sequential EIS rather than tying the name to seat count. The planned upgrade to the MRJ90 will be called the M200.
MITAC says the M100 will be the only Scope-compliant, new-technology jet offered today and when it is ready for service in 2023, unless Scope changes—an event independent observers believe is unlikely this year or next, when contract negotiations are undertaken, or even in 2023-24 when the contracts agreed this year and next become amendable again.
The E175-E2 is not Scope-complaint and the E1 is “old” technology (principally the engines, but also some systems).
The Bombardier CRJ is also “old” technology. It uses the same engines as the E1 and its design dates to the 1990s.
MITAC’s parent, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) confirmed it is negotiating with Bombardier to acquire the CRJ program and related businesses. See this story here.
MITAC’s Alex Bellamy, the chief development officer, demurred when asked about the negotiations, saying this was being conducted at the MHI level and MITAC isn’t involved.
An analysis of this potential transaction is here.
“For the majority of the traveling public [on regional jets], this will revolutionize travel—no gate baggage check and no waiting in the jetway to get gate-checked bags,” said Bellamy.
The SpaceJet will also mean faster turn times, no extra employee to handle those gate-checked bags, he said.
Embraer vows to continue with the E175-E2 despite its currently being non-Scope compliant and there are no firm orders for the airplane.
John Slattery, CEO of the commercial aviation division, sees the E175-E2 accounting for one-third of the sales over the life of the E2 program. But its big draw is the US market. Bombardier, and others, suggest Boeing will terminate the program after the Boeing-Embraer joint venture becomes effective, projected at year end.
Slattery bristles at the suggestion. He responded this way to the question whether Boeing might abandon the sub-100 seat sector.
“Until the two companies receive all the clearances from the regulatory authorities to start operations, Boeing and Embraer continue as separate entities and any decision about the E175-E2 remains under Embraer Commercial Aviation’s authority,” Slattery wrote LNA in an email. “We continue to be committed to certify and deliver the most efficient aircraft in the 70-90 seat category: The E175-E2 is already in final assembly, the engines will be shipped to Brazil shortly and I expect the first flight to occur later this year.”
MITAC’s parent, Mitsubishi, just concluded a new market demand study in which it sees a need for 5,100 aircraft under 100 seats between 2019-2039. By region, 39% or 2,027 in North America. Europe would account for 14%. The home market, Japan, accounts for only 1%.
No OEM segments the 70-100 seat sector in its forecast, but Japan Aircraft Development Corp. forecasts the 60-99 seat sector. In its 2018 forecast, it sees a 20 year demand for 2,794 aircraft, more conservative than MHI.
Embraer’s new 20-year forecast, for up to 150 seats, sees a demand for 2,780 aircraft in this broader sector.
The M100 EIS of 2023, a year later than the MRJ70 plan, comes just as there is a surge in aging RJs become ready for retirement. The MRJ program is seven years late, but the retirement surge happens to coincide with the new EIS for the M100.