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Mitsubishi Aircraft yet to sell JAL on regional jet

by Keiichiro Otsuka

Kyodo

While Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. has clinched a deal to deliver its new small passenger jet to All Nippon Airways Co. in 2017, Japan Airlines Co., the country’s other major carrier, has yet to sign up for the plane.

Gaining JAL as a customer would be seen as an endorsement by the Japanese aviation industry for the first domestically built small jet, dubbed the MRJ, or Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

To win over JAL, Mitsubishi Aircraft needs to overcome competition from Brazil’s Embraer S.A., which has been supplying JAL with small, or “regional,” jets.

Designed in configurations of 76 and 88 seats, the MRJ will be suited to flying between smaller cities with limited passenger demand. Mitsubishi Aircraft says it will boast fuel-efficiency as much as 20 percent better than comparable conventional planes. It will also have a relatively roomy cabin at 2.03 meters high and 2.76 meters across.

ANA has placed orders for 25 with an option to buy more. Delivery of the first plane is planned for April-June 2017.

“We do hope that JAL would use (our aircraft),” said Toshihiro Kawachi, vice president and general manager of sales and marketing at Mitsubishi Aircraft.

For its regional services in Japan, the JAL group had nine CRJ200s built by Canada’s Bombardier Inc. as of March 31. The group also had 15 E170s, which it started buying from Embraer in 2009.

The JAL group plans to replace the CRJ200 because the fleet is aging. While this may be an opportunity for the MRJ, Mitsubishi Aircraft still faces JAL’s policy of maintaining uniform lines of aircraft as a way to curb costs for servicing the fleet and training pilots and engineers.

Introducing a new set of aircraft would mean retraining personnel and reworking maintenance setups.

“Introducing the MRJ would have strong merit if we entirely replace the current E170s and CRJ200s to build a uniform fleet,” JAL Chairman Masaru Onishi said in an interview.

But he added this would be difficult unless Mitsubishi Aircraft comes up with a list of potential firms willing to buy the small jets once JAL is ready to offload them.

A Mitsubishi Aircraft source said finding buyers is possible “if we join forces with experts or get support from trading houses that are our shareholders.”

Major trading houses such as Mitsubishi Corp., Sumitomo Corp. and Mitsui & Co. are some of the major shareholders in Mitsubishi Aircraft.

But Embraer, which has a solid track record of doing business with JAL, remains in a stronger position than Mitsubishi Aircraft as it readies to market a new generation of jet.

“Our customers, including JAL, like E-jets, and E-jets are bringing value to them,” Paulo Silva, the president and CEO of commercial aviation at Embraer, said, referring to the company’s family of medium-range twin-engine passenger planes.