It has been a pivotal 12 months for the new wave of sub-100-seat jets. Two types powered by Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan PW1000G family – the Mitsubishi Regional Jet and the Embraer E2 – have embarked on flight test campaigns. In the last few weeks, Embraer’s successor to the E-Jet has taken to the air, while a second MRJ joined the first flight-test example on 31 May. Both aircraft are heading for certification with healthy orderbooks.

Meanwhile, there was better news for two programmes that have struggled for acceptance in the wider market. In May, Sukhoi’s Superjet went into service with a European airline, Ireland’s CityJet, for the first time. It was a significant development for a type that had secured just one operator in the western hemisphere in five years. And after more than a decade in development, Comac’s ARJ21-700 was due to begin operations with launch customer Chengdu Airlines at the end of June.

The arrival of the new types has created a regional jet market that is at its most dynamic since the last major market disruption at the turn of the century, when the arrival of 70-100-seat jets from Bombardier and Embraer saw off similar-sized rivals from BAE Systems, Fairchild Dornier and Fokker, and effectively ended the 50-seat segment they themselves had created. Throughout much of the 1990s this had been dominated by the Bombardier CRJ100/200 and the Embraer ERJ-135/145.

These compact types had been suited for the North American hub-and-spoke system, as airlines opted for faster jets over turboprops for feeder services. But fuel prices rendered them obsolete in the 21st century. At the same time, the emergence of new carriers in Asia and elsewhere led to new markets for larger regional jets, and by the early 2000s, Bombardier and Embraer enjoyed a thriving duopoly, just as Airbus and Boeing did in narrowbody and widebody airliners.

By the time the 2000s were drawing to a close, the situation had changed again. A growing market had tempted Mitsubishi into the segment, while Russia had launched its first commercial aircraft with substantial Western content, as China had to a lesser extent a few years earlier. With Airbus and Boeing increasingly focused on larger narrowbodies, Bombardier had spotted a gap between the largest regional jets and the smallest single-aisle airliners in the 110- to 130-seat segment.

While the arrival of new-generation powerplants – namely the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan – was the impetus for Bombardier to launch the CSeries, Embraer went for a different strategy. The Brazilian firm also opted for the PW1000G series, but chose instead to re-power and re-wing its E-Jet, announcing at the 2013 Paris air show a family of three E2s, powered by the PW1700G and PW1900G. Mitsubishi had earlier selected a different variant of the same engine.

Meanwhile, the Superjet and ARJ21 use more established engine technology. The Russian type – which went into service in 2011 – relies on SaM146 engines from Powerjet, a joint venture between Russia’s NPO Saturn and France’s Safran, and the first east-west propulsion collaboration. The ARJ21, which has been in development since the early 2000s, is powered by the General Electric CF34-10A, an engine that is proven in the market but dates back to the 1980s.

Although unconfirmed at the time of writing, two of these four types could be making an appearance at Farnborough. Despite the E190-E2 having only just flown, Embraer had not ruled out an appearance at the show. The Superjet – which has appeared at Farnborough before – looks set to make a return, perhaps with two examples. The MRJ and ARJ21 were both reported to be contenders for a first Farnborough visit, but both Mitsubishi and Comac have since ruled out coming to the show this year.

The reason for Mitsubishi’s absence is that it is embarking on a five-aircraft, 2,500h flight test campaign and attempting to win back time lost over a five-year delay to ensure an entry into service by mid-2018. The airframer wants to fly the 88-seat MRJ90 to the USA by the first quarter of 2015. Japan’s unreliable weather and congested airspace makes just two test flights a day feasible. In the clearer skies of Moses Lake, Washington, the fleet could complete several sorties a day.

Embraer, meanwhile, is in the enviable position of having flown its first E2 four months ahead of schedule, on 24 May – although the Brazilian airframer has faced a slightly easier challenge than its Japanese counterpart, given its two decades of experience in regional jets and the fact that the aircraft is not a clean-sheet design. That Embraer flew the aircraft just three months after roll-out surprised many in the industry. It had been due to fly in the second half of 2016.

Like Mitsubishi, Embraer is targeting 2018 for entry into service for the E190-E2, the first of three variants of the E2 family. Although not an all-new aircraft, Embraer is keen to point out that aside from different engines, the E2 has a new wing and landing gear. Embraer plans to have four prototypes in the flight test programme with a second due to join by early July, and a third in August. A fourth example, configured with a full cabin interior, will fly in late 2016 or early 2017.

After entering service in 2011, the Superjet is the most established of the new contenders. However, with 65 in service and another 53 on order, it has perhaps found it hardest to gain traction in the market, especially outside Russia and its neighbours. Until this year, Mexico’s InterJet had been its only success. Superjet International – the Venice-based joint venture with Leonardo set up to market and support the type in the West – will be banking on the CityJet deal to change that.

The Irish airline’s executive chairman Pat Byrne has predicted that the Russian jet – which has a wider cabin than its competitors, at five abreast – has the potential to “transform” Europe’s regional airline industry. CityJet has placed 15 firm orders for the 98-seat twinjet, with 16 options, with the aircraft leased through a Russian-owned entity in Dublin, part of a complex transaction – a year in negotiation – which Byrne has described as “dealing with the United Nations”.

Although CityJet plans to replace BAE Systems Avro RJ85s with the Superjet on its London City-based network from 2019, it will in the short term wet-lease the Russian aircraft to other European carriers in arrangements similar to its Bombardier CRJ900 operation for SAS. However, Byrne believes the “game-changing” Superjet can eventually “reshape our future as we want to become the leading regional airline in Europe”.

The big dilemma for Sukhoi – and partners Leonardo and Safran – is whether to persevere with the Superjet 100 or to develop a variant with a higher-thrust engine in the hope that it will open new markets. It is already working on a stretch version with a view to beginning deliveries in 2020. While Safran has said it is open to working on a new powerplant, Sukhoi in May appeared to pour cold water on the idea, stating that it was not part of “our current development programme”.

Chengdu Airlines’ first commercial flight with the ARJ21 – due on the Chengdu-Shanghai Hongqiao route on 28 June at time of writing – closes a decade-and-a-half development for China’s first 21st century airliner. The carrier has been preparing for several years to add the type to its all-Airbus fleet and plans to take delivery of two more ARJ21s this year. It says it will introduce the type on shorter routes to build customer awareness of the indigenous aircraft.

With five airframers – including Bombardier and its CRJ range – chasing sales in the sub-100-seat segment, it remains to be seen whether demand from fleet replacement in established markets or new carriers in emerging territories will be sufficient to support such competition. Another factor is a resurgent turboprop market. Two decades ago, new-fangled commuter jets looked like they might consign propeller aircraft to the history books. ATR has just had its best year ever.


In Service



Comac ARJ21



Embraer E-Jet E2


Mitsubishi MRJ


Sukhoi Superjet 100








Source: Flightglobal Fleets Analyzer

Additional reporting by Ghim-Lay Yeo, Stephen Trimble and Mavis Toh

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Source: Flight International