Mitsubishi formally offers new MRJ regional jet to airlines

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Having signed up Pratt & Whitney to supply its geared turbofan (GTF), Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plans to establish a new company to develop, manufacture and market the 70- to 90-seat Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), and to sell minority stakes to Japanese and foreign investors.

MHI has begun offering the MRJ to customers, and plans to announce whether it will formally launch the programme at the end of its current fiscal year on 31 March 2008. Service entry is planned for 2012 and the company is targeting a 20% share of a forecast market for 5,000 aircraft over 20 years.

MHI becomes the first airframer to select the P&W's GTF, and chose the ultra-high-bypass engine in a bid to differentiate the MRJ from other 70- to 90-seat regional jets, including Embraer's E-Jet, China's ACAC ARJ21 and Russia's Sukhoi Superjet 100.

The GTF, which beat off an improved General Electric CF34-10 and a variant of Rolls-Royce's new RB282, offers a 12% reduction in specific fuel consumption and 50% reduction in noise, says Todd Kallman, P&W president, commercial engines. The all-new GTF will be rated at 17,000lb thrust (75.7kN) on the 86- to 96-seat MRJ90 and derated to 15,000lb thrust on the 70- to 80-seat MRJ70, he says.

Rockwell Collins will supply its new Pro Line 21 Fusion flightdeck avionics, while Saab Aerotech has signed a memorandum of understanding to support the MRJ in Europe and the USA.

If launched, the MRJ will be Japan's first indigenous commercial airliner since the twin-turboprop NAMC YS-11, production of which ended in 1974 after 182 aircraft. In the 1980s, a consortium of Japanese companies studied the 150-seat YXX, switching in the early 1990s to the smaller YSX - first as an 80-seater then later as a 110-seater. Funding for the YSX was cut back in 1998, although studies continued.

In 2005, after testing the market for a 30-seat regional jet, Mitsubishi abandoned the concept to focus again on the 70- to 90-seat category. All these studies have been funded by the Japanese government, which may provide up to ¥50 billion ($425 million) of the projected ¥150 billion development cost of the MRJ as repayable launch aid.

Between now and a launch decision, MHI says it will "promote commercialisation of the aircraft while conducting robust marketing activities". The company is pitching the MRJ to Japan's two largest carriers, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, and says its main target export markets are Europe and the USA.

In parallel with its marketing efforts, MHI says it will "negotiate details with potential partners, establish a sales finance scheme and develop an operation structure" for the new MRJ company. MHI says it is in discussions with Boeing, but declines to provide details. The US manufacturer was the preferred partner for the first YXX then YSX and Japan has a major risk-sharing stake in the Boeing 787, MHI producing the wing box.

MHI will retain majority ownership of new MRJ company, and says outside investors could include Japanese banks and trading houses, as well as overseas groups.