JAL Spreads Wealth Between Mitsubishi, Embraer

 - September 2, 2014, 2:53 PM
Japan Airlines president Yoshiharu Ueki (Photo: JAL)

Two manufacturers shared the spoils of Japan Airlines’ major commitment announced last week covering a total of 47 regional jets. But the potentially bigger and undoubtedly more desperate winner proved to be Mitsubishi, the upstart regional jet manufacturer whose orderbook now shows memoranda of understanding, tentative agreements and firm orders from six customers. The much needed boost for the MRJ program came in the form of a so-called basic agreement covering 32 of the jets. Simultaneously, the airline announced a $677 million firm order for 15 E170s and E190s, further padding an Embraer orderbook that reflects the fattest backlog by far of all the world’s RJ manufacturers. The Japan Airlines deal with Embraer includes options for another 12 airplanes. The companies did not disclose the planned E170/E190 fleet mix.

Speaking in Tokyo at a joint press conference with Mitsubishi on August 28, Japan Airlines president Yoshiharu Ueki revealed plans to deploy the first of the MRJs in 2021 on domestic routes flown by JAL Group subsidiary J-Air. Mitsubishi hopes to fly the larger of the planned 78- and 92-seat designs, the MRJ90, during next year’s second quarter. Schedules now call for certification and first delivery to Japan’s All Nippon Airways two years later.

In the meantime, plans call for the first example of the new order for Embraer E-Jets to arrive in Japan in 2015, at which time the Brazilian jets would start to supplement a fleet of 15 E170s now flown by J-Air out of Osaka and Tokyo International Airports and Fukuoka Airport. However, JAL plans to begin removing the Embraer jets in favor of the MRJs in 2021 and deploy a uniform fleet of Mitsubishi jets with J-Air by the middle of the next decade. 

“I visited the factory where [the MRJ] is currently being developed,” said Ueki. “On seeing the new Japanese passenger aircraft with my own eyes, my heart beat fast and I was confident that it would be the perfect next-generation regional jet for our company.

“This will be the first time for JAL Group to own a Japanese passenger aircraft since the times the former JAS Group operated the YS-11. In addition to deploying the MRJ, we will provide overall support using our know-how as an airline operating regional jets, and thus contribute to the birth of a Japanese passenger jet which we can boast about to the world.”

In all, Mitsubishi plans seven test articles for the certification program, including five flight-test airplanes. The program has so far suffered three major delays since its launch in March 2008. The most recent setback resulted from the company’s failure to properly forecast the effects of new U.S. Federal Aviation Administration procedures introduced in 2009 to validate regulatory compliance of production processes. The new rules shifted Mitsubishi’s testing schedule by as much as two years, meaning, if all goes as now planned, the time between program launch and certification would span more than nine years.

Over the summer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries mounted the first pair of Pratt & Whitney PW1200G “geared turbofans” on the program’s first flight test vehicle at MHI’s final assembly facility in Aichi Prefecture, known as the Komaki South plant. The company finished mating the airplane’s wings to the fuselage in June.

During July’s Farnborough Air Show, Mitsubishi announced it had chosen Grant County International Airport at Moses Lake, Washington, as its second flight test center for the regional jets and signed a related letter of intent with flight-testing specialist Aerospace Testing Engineering & Certification (AeroTEC). The company plans to start the Moses Lake flight testing in the fall of 2015.

Notwithstanding the prospect of new business from Eastern Airlines and Air Mandalay, each of which placed MOUs during July’s Farnborough International air show, firm orders for the MRJ continue to total 165 from three customers. The manufacturer expects ANA to take the first of its order for 15 airplanes in 2017, followed by delivery to SkyWest, which holds a firm order for 100, and Trans States Airlines, which has ordered 50. Coincidently, SkyWest and Trans States also appear on Embraer’s delivery schedules for Pratt & Whitney PW1000G-family-powered E2 E-Jets, the first of which the Brazilian company expects to deliver in 2018.