Mitsubishi to Delay Launch of MRJ100X Beyond mid-2012

 - August 31, 2011, 5:15 AM

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 some time in the middle of next year, 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 month, 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 with 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 Mitsubishi has taken firm orders for 50 MRJs from U.S. regional Trans States Airlines and for another 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 of 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 very tough time for airlines [there]. 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 the two existing family members–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 the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G Geared Turbofan.

Still on schedule for late 2013 certification according to Iwasa, the MRJ90 stands as the first variant that will benefit from a new 10-year customer support contract signed between Mitsubishi and Boeing at the Paris Air Show. Under the terms of the contract, Boeing Commercial Aviation Services will conduct parts provisioning, service operations and field services, as well as tailor a service and maintenance web portal to Mitsubishi’s specific needs.