Boeing has agreed to be a consultant on marketing, development and post-sales activities for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, potentially helping to fill some key gaps in the Japanese aircraft programme.
Mitsubishi Aircraft, which will design and develop the MRJ, says that it will be able to "draw upon selected Boeing knowledge, which has been accumulated over many years of making commercial aircraft" through the support contract.
The USA airframe manufacturer's help could be crucial to the MRJ's success, say industry sources. "Mitsubishi has little experience with marketing and post-sales activities, but those are the key elements of any successful aircraft programme. If Boeing can help them to nail that down, it would greatly increase the MRJ's chances of being commercially successful," says one source in Tokyo.
The deal also extends the close relationship between Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Aircraft's main shareholder and a major supplier for the US airframe manufacturer's aircraft programmes like the 787, 747, 767, 777 and 737 series of passenger jets.
"This agreement with Boeing is rooted in a partnership with MHI that stretches back for many years, and will contribute significantly to the success of the MRJ as well as further strengthening the relationship between our companies," says Nobuo Toda, president of Mitsubishi Aircraft.
Nicole Piasecki, president of Boeing Japan, adds: "We are extremely pleased with this contract as we understand that the MRJ is an extremely important project in Japan. MHI is a longstanding working partner, and we are honoured to have the opportunity to support the MRJ."
That partnership could extend to Boeing's future aircraft programmes. In August, Toda told Flight International that Mitsubishi could help Boeing to manufacture the smaller models of its successor to the 737 series of narrowbodies, instead of designing a stretched version of the 70-90 seat MRJ.
"If Boeing would like to develop a successor to the 737, we would like to partner them at the lower end of the aircraft, perhaps in the 100-130 seat segment. The timing would be good as we would have gained experience in manufacturing the MRJ and we can bring that to the 737 successor programme," Today said in an interview in Japan.
The MRJ is scheduled to have its first flight in 2011 and enter service in 2013 with All Nippon Airways (ANA), which ordered 15 MRJ-90s with 10 options in March to help launch the programme. Mitsubishi projects a requirement for 5,000 regional aircraft over the next 20 years, and it hopes that the MRJ will win 1,000 of those.
Pratt & Whitney's "PurePower" geared turbofan engine will power the aircraft, Rockwell Collins will provide its Pro Line Fusion avionics system, and Hamilton Sundstrand the electric power systems, air management system, auxiliary power unit, inert gas system, high lift actuation system and fire and overheat protection system. Parker Aerospace will supply hydraulic systems, Nabtesco the flight control system, and Sumitomo Precision the landing gear.