Trans States favours MRJ90

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Regional airline operator Trans States Holdings wants to fly 86-seat, dual class Mitsubishi MRJ90 aircraft, but says such a move depends on changes to pilot scope clause agreements.

Trans States last month placed an order for up to 100 MRJs. At that time, the carrier said it was interested in all three variants: the MRJ90, the MRJ70, and the proposed stretched variant of the aircraft with 100 seats.

Speaking to ATI today at the Regional Airline Association (RAA) fall meeting in Washington DC, Trans States president and COO Rick Leach said: "We think that [the MRJ90] is the right aircraft."

The MRJ90 has better economics compared to the MRJ70 and the company has more knowledge about the MRJ90 than the proposed 100-seat MRJ100, he explains.

However, Trans States' variant selection will depend on the scope clause, a facet of mainline pilot contracts limiting seat size and maximum takeoff weight of aircraft flown by regional airline partners.

"Hopefully we'll see some movement in scope," says Leach.

St Louis-based Trans States does have "flexibility" across the aircraft family when it comes to its MRJ order of 50 firm and 50 options, he notes.

Trans States did not publish a request for proposals (RFP) for new regional jets ahead of its MRJ order because no other aircraft has the technical advances or the fuel and environmental efficiencies of the MRJ, according to Leach.

The aircraft's promise of double digit operational cost improvements and its environmental footprint were also seen as assets as Trans States prepares to compete for new flying opportunities on behalf of mainline operators, he says. The MRJ will help Trans States prepare for any domestic emissions regulation or requirements and "gives us an edge" over other regional operators..

Trans States is planning for firm deliveries to occur between the first quarter of 2014 and the third quarter of 2016 to allow the company to pursue capacity purchase agreements that expire from 2014. Any exercised options would be delivered between 2017 and 2018, Trans States vice president of scheduling Fred Oxley tells ATI.

As Trans States determines order specifics, Leach says the company is working on financing with Mitsubishi and Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), formerly the Export-Import Bank of Japan. Financing has not been finalized.

In addition, the company has not finalized which of its two subsidiaries - Embraer E-145 operator Trans States Airlines and Bombardier CRJ700 operator GoJet - would operate the forthcoming MRJs.

The MRJs could be flown by one or both of the carriers, says Leach, adding that whichever carrier or carriers operate the new fleet type would likely hire 10 pilots per aircraft delivered.

In the meantime, Trans States is preparing for GoJet to take delivery of its final two of 10 firm CRJ700 NextGen aircraft this December.

GoJet will end the year with 25 aircraft, making its fleet roughly 67% larger than its year-end 2008 fleet count.