Mitsubishi Signs U.S. Customer for MRJ

 - October 2, 2009, 7:28 AM

Mitsubishi Aircraft scored an enormous marketing coup today when it signed the first letter of intent from a non-Japanese airline for its new MRJ. The LOI, signed by St. Louis-based Trans States Holdings, owner of Trans States Airlines and GoJet, calls for a firm order for 50 of the 78- to 92-seat airplanes, along with options for another 50. Until today Mitsubishi’s order book showed firm orders for 15 MRJs and options for another 10 from Japanese airline ANA.

“We believe the MRJ is a game-changing regional jet that takes into account the environment, as well as passenger and airline needs,” said Trans States president Rick Leach. “The MRJ will reduce fuel consumption, noise and NOx emissions–this means savings on operating costs. By combining the largest cabin in the regional jet market with the innovative seat design and very quiet cabin, we will be able to offer our passengers the best comfort of any regional jet.”

Mitsubishi last month announced that it would delay first flight of the 92-seat MRJ90 by as much as six months, from late 2011 to the second quarter of 2012, to accommodate changes to the design of the cabin and the wing box. MJET now expects to deliver the first MRJ90 during the first quarter of 2014. Development of the 78-seat MRJ70 trails that of its larger sibling by roughly a year.

MJET has decided on an aluminum, rather than composite, wing box, ostensibly easing the manufacture of an optimal wing structure, according to the company. The aluminum box will allow for a shorter lead time for structural changes and allow designers to more easily optimize the wings to match the attributes of each member of the MRJ family.

According to MJET, it has finalized the configuration of the MRJ, placing it on a path toward completion of critical design review and design freeze “in the coming months.” The company claims the new configuration incorporates a number of “significant” improvements resulting from discussions with and feedback from potential customers.

The improvements include increasing the height of the cabin by 1.5 inches, raising head clearance by the same amount and increasing space in the overhead bin by 12 percent. The new configuration will allow passengers to store large-size roller bags in the overhead compartments. Meanwhile, the company has combined the forward and aft cargo compartments into a single 644-cu-ft aft compartment, resulting in the same amount of space but making baggage handling simpler, with the added bonus of improved stacking efficiency.

Mitsubishi has now begun to consider a 100-seat version of the airplane, contingent on enough market demand to trigger a full-scale launch. As late as the Regional Airline Association convention, held May 18 to 21 in Salt Lake City, Mitsubishi Aircraft executive v-p Junichi Miyakawa dismissed the idea of a stretch variant due to the regulatory requirements that call for a third flight attendant in airplanes that carry 100 seats.