DALLAS—Airlines’ pilot scope clauses remain the biggest impediment to the MRJ succeeding in the U.S. regional jet market, U.S. CEO Masao Yamagami of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. told Aviation Daily at the MRO Americas 2016 trade show here.
Most U.S. airlines’ pilot contracts have scope clauses that limit outsourcing of flying on aircraft exceeding 76 seats and a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of more than 86,000 lb. The MRJ can be configured with up to 90 seats, and its MTOW exceeds the cutoff. Yamagami said the seat-count restriction can be met by configuring the MRJ90 with two classes of service, but the MTOW restriction is a more difficult nut to crack.
“If the current 86,000-lb. MTOW restriction remains, our aircraft does not have enough range,” he said. “If we fill the aircraft with passengers, we cannot fill enough fuel for maximum range.” In its longest-range derivative, the MRJ has a 2,000 nm range and an MTOW just north of 90,000 lb.
This is not a new issue for the MRJ, which has struggled with the scope clause restriction almost since the program’s launch (Aviation Daily, June 24, 2013). But Yamagami said the company is hopeful that U.S. airlines will relax some restrictions when pilot contracts become amendable. “The unions are sticking [to] these restrictions,” he said. “Without showing how good our aircraft is, management [at airlines] will not challenge this point.”
Despite the challenges with U.S. airlines, Mitsubishi views North America as its largest potential MRJ market, Yamagami said. The airframer has secured orders from Trans States Airlines and SkyWest Inc., but has not seen much traction beyond that. Yamagami attributed this to the scope clause issue.
The airframer has not secured orders from Europe and, given the parlous state of most large Latin American economies, that region also now seems beyond reach, Yamagami said. Mitsubishi thinks there is potential for the MRJ in Africa, given the growth in the continent’s airline industry, he said.
When asked about the biggest surprise the company encountered during the MRJ’s development, Yamagami said the company was unprepared for the regulatory certification process.
“It has been 50 years since Japan developed a [commercial air transport] aircraft,” he said. “We underestimated the certification process, and we now know we needed more people to prepare verification and validation instead of just engineers.” The issue was not just with international bodies, such as the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency. “We had the same challenge with our regulatory authority, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, which had more experience certifying helicopters but not much in certifying transport aircraft,” he said.
The MRJ is expected to enter service in 2018 with launch customer All Nippon Airways.