Competition between China and Japan on RJs heads up

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Competition between Asia's heavyweights China and Japan is heating up in the regional jet aircraft market with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and China's AVIC I Commercial Aircraft (ACAC) on the front line.

MHI has decided to launch its Pratt & Whitney GTF geared turbofan-powered MRJ regional jet programme on the back of a commitment from All Nippon Airways to order 15 MRJ90s with option for 10 more.

ANA says it will receive its first MRJ90 either in late 2013 or early 2014 and will use it on domestic routes. It currently has no regional jets, unlike Japan Airlines, which operates Bombardier regional jets and has Embraer 170s on order.

JAL says it has been considering the MRJ - after receiving an unsolicited approach from MHI - but is unlikely to order MRJs in the immediate term because it already has Embraer jets on order.

While JAL is non-committal, some industry sources in Japan say JAL may end up ordering the MRJ before 2010 because MHI's parent has been helping JAL financially.

MHI's other known prospect is Vietnam Airlines, which says the aircraft deal being negotiated includes an arrangement whereby MHI will transfer some MRJ parts manufacture to north Vietnam.

Vietnam Airlines plans to use MRJs for domestic and short-haul regional routes it currently serves using ATR 72s and Fokker 70s, it adds.

MHI declines to comment on the Vietnam negotiations but it already has an aerospace manufacturing subsidiary near Hanoi.

If Vietnam orders MRJs then it means the aircraft will be pitched against the ACAC ARJ21-700.

China's political ally Laos has a commitment for two ARJ21-700s on behalf of national carrier Lao Airlines, which plans to operate the Chinese-built aircraft to Vietnam and Thailand.

The ARJ21 is powered by the GE CF34-10A and the engine maker's sister company GE Commercial Aviation Services has just signed a memorandum of understanding for five ARJ21-700s with a view later increasing it to 25, says ACAC.

ACAC's other customers include: Shandong Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Shanghai Electric Leasing, Shenzhen Airlines and Shenzhen Financial Leasing.

Read more about Mitsubishi's new regional jet at flightglobal.com/mrj