Can the MRJ establish Japan as a commercial aviation force?

Last week’s news that Japan’s attempt to break into the regional jet segment is moving a step closer has got many talking about its potential for establishing itself as a player in the 70-90 seat passenger market.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) is set to take its maiden test flight in the latter half of October, with a one hour test scheduled to take place at Nagoya Airport. The MRJ programme, from OEM Mitsubishi Aircraft, marks Japan’s second attempt to break into the airframe market after the 64-seat YS-11 turboprop failed to get much in the way of momentum in the 1960s, securing little more than 180 orders.

Despite having seen a number of delays to the programme in recent years meaning the aircraft will now finally be delivered to launch customer ANA Holdings in 2017, this hasn’t seen enthusiasm for the jet dampen, with a number of Japanese and US carriers continuing to place orders this year...

With a total of 407 orders to date, the early signs for the aircraft establishing itself in a market dominated by Embraer and Bombardier appear promising.

Last year, Mistubishi Aircraft predicted that global demand for 70 to 90-seat aircraft over the next 20 years will reach more than 5,000 aircraft, because of the need for airlines to replace their 50-seat fleets with larger aircraft. It has also trumpeted the near 20 per cent fuel reduction the aircraft brings compared to similar aircraft.

While Mitsubishi Aircraft fancies its chances, a fact illustrated by its near $2bn investment in the project, many believe its route towards establishing itself in the regional jet market could hold some sizeable challenges.

Perhaps the most intriguing of these challenges is how the MRJ’s established competitors will react to the entrant of another market participant.

In an interview with Bloomberg last week, Addison Schonland, a partner at aviation consultant AirInsight, said he believed things are “going to get nasty” with Embraer and Bombardier, predicting that Mitsubishi Aircraft’s rival OEMs wouldn’t be giving up the fight in such a narrow but competitive sector.

While in this instance the old cliché “only time will tell” applies, from my perspective, the aftermarket opportunities that could be born out of the introduction of the MRJ are equally as fascinating.

Given the existing strength of the Asia-Pacific region, something forecast to continue over the next 20 years, the possibilities for MROs looking to expand into this market – and the wider 70-90 seat aircraft sector – could see this trend form in the coming years.

TAGS: Airframes
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