Mitsubishi Aircraft’s official launch of the proposed 100-seat MRJ100X will likely have to wait at least another year, or until after the first flight of the 88-seat MRJ90 in mid-2012, as the company waits for the European airline market to show more tangible signs of recovery. Speaking from his office in Tokyo with AIN last week, Mitsubishi Aircraft head of sales and marketing Hank Iwasa referred to the deliberations as “tough,” given the level of investment required to develop a third variant and the still “rather slow” European economy.
Europe stands as perhaps the most strategically important market for the 100X, said Iwasa, given the size of the regional airline sector there and its loose scope-clause restrictions compared to those in North America. Recognizing the importance of Europe in general, Mitsubishi in May opened a sales office in Amsterdam, staffed by four salespeople tasked with helping Iwasa find a regional launch customer on the continent. So far the MRJ has drawn firm orders for 50 aircraft from U.S. regional Trans States Airlines and another for 15 from launch customer ANA of Japan.
Meanwhile, an MOU signed at the Paris Air Show by Hong Kong-based leasing company ANI for five MRJ90s could prove more strategically significant than its small size suggests. ANI, in fact, has promised to order 20 MRJ100Xs if Mitsubishi chooses to launch the project.
Still, said Iwasa, Mitsubishi would need more than a commitment to buy 20 airplanes before its board approves the launch a 100-seater.
“We need more,” insisted Iwasa. “We really need some orders from European airlines.
“We are now closely watching the situation [in Europe], and listening to the voices of the customers...I think the airlines in Europe have postponed their decisions on what type of aircraft they need to buy this year or next year, two years from now, because it is a tough time for airlines in Europe. So our decision really depends on the situation in the European market…Still, there are many flag carriers interested in our 100X.”
For now, however, Iwasa and company remain sharply focused on marketing the two existing variants–the 88-seat MRJ90 and 76-seat MRJ70. Iwasa said he expects to see “two or three” more MRJ sales by year-end, and at least one from Europe. He also noted Korean Air’s apparent interest in developing a regional network consisting of markets suited to the Bombardier C Series, 10 of which it recently ordered. Iwasa said he thinks the MRJs could serve as ideal supplements to the C Series in the Korean fleet, particularly given both airplanes use Pratt & Whitney PW1000G Geared Turbofans.