Japanese carrier delays plan to acquire 10-15 large regional jets until next year as it struggles to resolve difficulties

Japan Airlines (JAL) has deferred plans to order large regional jets from Bombardier or Embraer until at least early next year as it struggles to get its financial house in order. Asia's largest airline group issued a request for proposals to the two manufacturers in September, seeking offers on 70- to 90-seat regional jets, and a mid-October deadline was given.

Although JAL did not put a timeframe on when it might take a decision, one was expected by the end of this calendar year. However, JAL's finances are still in disarray and, as a result, it has delayed a decision until at least early next year, according to industry sources in Japan, who add that a more realistic timeframe is next March. JAL is not able to confirm if a decision has been deferred, saying only that there was no timeframe on when an order would be placed - if at all. It has also not said how many aircraft it is interested in acquiring, although it is believed to be roughly 10 to 15.

Only 13 50-seat Bombardier regional jets currently operate in Japan with two operators, and there are no 70- or 90-seat jets in the country, although both Bombardier and Embraer have long seen the Japanese market as one with great potential for future sales. The hope is that if JAL goes ahead with an order, other airlines may follow suit.

The aircraft JAL is considering ordering would be used by its J-Air subsidiary, which already operates 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s. The plan would be to introduce them ahead of the opening of a fourth runway at Tokyo's busy Haneda airport early in 2009, which is expected to increase take-off and landing slots to 407,000 a year from 285,000. The runway will primarily enable more international services to operate from the predominantly domestic facility, but will also allow for smaller aircraft to serve it.

JAL has been in financial difficulty for some years, and has been working on a wide-ranging restructuring that it hopes will return it to profitability this fiscal year. Its first-half result to 30 September was weaker than expected, however, forcing it to sell assets in a bid to meet earnings targets.

Source: Flight International