NEW YORK - ANA Holdings Inc. is considering flying the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the nation’s first indigenously built small jet, on a domestic route to and from Chubu Centrair International Airport, a source at the airline group said Tuesday. The airport serves Nagoya city.
This will be the commercial debut of the MRJ since ANA Holdings, the parent of All Nippon Airways Co., is scheduled to be the world’s first recipient of the jet among six clients signed up so far. ANA has ordered 25 of the aircraft, with the first expected to be delivered in the first quarter of fiscal 2017.
In all, Mitsubishi Aircraft has received orders for 407 aircraft from ANA, Japan Airlines Co., and four carriers in the U.S. and Myanmar. Nearly half, or 184, are on option and purchase rights, which allows the buyer to pull out of the deal within a designated window.
The ANA group, Japan’s largest airline operator, has yet to decide which route the MRJ will fly from Nagoya.
“We would like to use it soon after it is delivered,” the ANA source said, adding that the model will be operated by wholly owned subsidiary ANA Wings Co., which serves regional cities in Japan.
Potential routes under consideration are thought to be those linking cities in the Hokkaido, Tohoku and Kyushu regions to the airport in Aichi, a prefecture which is home to the head office of Mitsubishi Aircraft, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and the MRJ’s final assembly facility.
ANA hopes that the MRJ will replace the 126-seater Boeing 737-500, which is deemed to be oversized for some services to local cities in Japan. The MRJ seats roughly 70 to 90 people.
June data showed some ANA flights to and from Chubu Centrair were at 40-50 percent capacity. The ANA source said that the MRJ “will help balance supply capacity and demand” on those routes.
The MRJ is also known to be more than 20 percent more fuel efficient than existing comparable aircraft. Japanese airlines hope this will help them compete better with shinkansen bullet trains and long-distance bus services.
“We are pinning hopes on the MRJ for its substantial advantage in fuel efficiency,” said Osamu Shinobe, director of ANA Holdings, who also serves as president of ANA.
The Boeing jet also flies on ANA’s services from Naha in Japan’s southern prefecture of Okinawa to adjacent island airports such as Miyako and Ishigaki. These may well be eventually served by the MRJ as well.
Naha Airport is also expected to be the base for MRO Japan Co., set up by ANA and other investors to service the MRJ and other small aircraft for regional services.
JAL, which has ordered 32 units, is set to introduce the aircraft in 2021. The nation’s second-largest airline envisages flying the MRJ mainly on routes to and from Osaka’s Itami airport, run by subsidiary J-Air Corp., as well as some routes to and from Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
J-Air currently has the E170 of Brazil’s Embraer SA and the CRJ200 of Canada’s Bombadier Inc. in its fleet and is hoping to replace them with the MRJ, a streamlining step to reduce aircraft servicing costs.
Japan Airlines Chairman Masaru Onishi said the MRJ “offers an ideal combination of aircraft size and engine” among various small jets.
The MRJ faced four major delays in development, pushing back the delivery from the initially planned 2013. Mitsubishi Aircraft is planning a test model’s maiden flight in the September-October period this year.
It will be the first domestically produced passenger aircraft in Japan in over half a century since the YS-11, a turboprop aircraft that made its first flight in 1962.