International Lease Finance could make its first foray into the 100-seat jet market as it evaluates whether to be a launch customer for the new small airliners being developed by Bombardier, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Sukhoi.
The leasing giant, which operates a portfolio of some 900 aircraft, has traditionally drawn a line below the Airbus A320 family and Boeing 737 size category and not ventured into the regional jet sector.
However, the company has emerged as a potential launch customer for the 110-seat Bombardier CSeries and is planning to undertake a detailed evaluation of the yet-to-be-launched 90-seat MHI Regional Jet (MRJ).
According to a well-placed industry source, ILFC is being courted by MHI to sign up as a launch customer for the proposed Pratt & Whitney GTF geared turbofan-powered twinjet.
"ILFC will evaluate this new design very carefully over the next few months to determine if this category and this specific aircraft type adds significant value to ILFC's future fleet portfolio," says the source.
Although the lessor was unavailable for comment about the status of the MRJ evaluation, chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy confirmed to Flight's Commercial Aviation Online last month that the CSeries, as well as the Sukhoi Superjet 100, were being considered.
Bombardier gave authority-to-offer approval for the GTF-powered CSeries programme last month, and is seeking launch customers. Udvar-Hazy says that with the airframer having lost a key launch target - Northwest Airlines, "Pratt & Whitney is pushing us to give the CSeries a close look, they want us to be the launch customer".
Describing the PowerJet SaM146-powered SSJ as "the best plane I have seen out of Russia", Udvar-Hazy says that Sukhoi has offered the lessor "very attractive deals" but that he has issues with the aircraft's "credibility and aftercare sales support".
Traditionally, GE Commercial Aviation Services has been the major player in the regional leasing market, where its sister GE Aircraft Engines is the main supplier, powering the entire Bombardier CRJ family and Embraer E-Jet family.
However, with GE not powering the new breed of small jets (although CFM partner Snecma is in the PowerJet joint venture), GECAS may be less inclined to place orders and this could give ILFC an opportunity to establish itself as the prime lessor in the sector.
P&W's obsession with the geared turbofan