FARNBOROUGH: Eastern Air Lines signs for 20 MRJ90s

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Eastern Air Lines has signed a memorandum of understanding covering 20 Mitsubishi Regional Jets, and taken purchase rights for an additional 20.

Mitsubishi Aircraft says it will move to conclude a definitive agreement in the "near future", and that deliveries of the MRJ90s are scheduled to start in 2019.

With this agreement, Eastern becomes Mitsubishi's third American customer, and also breaks the Japanese airframer's orders dry spell since 2012.

The airline's group president Edward Wegel says its regional jets will likely have 82 seats in a two-class configuration.

He adds that the carrier is planning to relaunch in the first quarter of 2015, likely first as a charter operator before starting scheduled services by the end of the year. It will operate services from its base at Miami International airport to the Caribbean and to Central and Latin American destinations.

"We are extremely impressed with the operating-cost benefits of the MRJ with the geared turbofan engine, which reduces seat-mile costs almost to the level of current 130-seater aircraft," says Wegel. "This provides an excellent scheduling and route network advantage to Eastern as we look to add a second fleet type within five years."

Wegel says he has confidence in the MRJ programme since Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is experienced and does work on the Boeing 787 and 777, and is also not "overly concerned" that there could be another programme delay.

"It's an airplane that we need further in our development in our own route network and own systems, so if there are any slippages, it’s something that we can account for and accommodate fairly easily and we know that at the end of the day the product will be outstanding. It's worth waiting for," says Wegel.

Mitsubishi Aircraft has accumulated firm orders for 165 of its regional jets, and options for a further 160.