Decision on MRJ stretch will take 'one or two years'

Mitsubishi Aircraft (MAC) will decide on whether to launch formally a stretch version of the MRJ "in one or two years", but has yet to determine a list price for the proposed 100-seat variant, according to its director of marketing Yugo Fukuhara.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ERA General Assembly in Interlaken, Switzerland, Fukuhara said that launch of the stretch version was "subject to demand and business case".

The stretch's seat capacity has been set at 100 for two reasons, explains Fukuhara: 100 is the maximum number of seats that can be flown with just two cabin attendants, and demand in the 101-110-seat market is considered by MAC to be "very limited".

The stretch, which would join the 88-seat MRJ 90 and 76-seat MRJ 70, was first mooted as part of a comprehensive programme revamp revealed in September, following a preliminary design review and customer discussions that ran between April and August.

The revamp brought a host of changes intended to "accommodate customer requirements and reflect design progress". These included a switch from carbon-fibre composite wing boxes to aluminium ones. "The weight reduction by applying carbon fibre to the MRJ's size of wing was less than expected," explains Fukuhara.

A division of MAC manufactures composite wing boxes for the Boeing 787, but senior vice president of sales and marketing Yosuke Takigawa stresses that the US airframer's programme delays were not a factor in its decision to amend the MRJ's design.

Where previously the MRJ 70 and 90 were intended to share a common wing, the plan now is develop a lighter version of the MRJ 90 wing for the 70 and a strengthened version for the stretch.

Changes to the fuselage design included a heightening of the cabin, allowing larger overhead bins, and a switch from two cargo compartments (one aft and one forward) to just one (an enlarged aft compartment).

Earlier this month US regional carrier Trans States Holdings signed a letter of intent to take up to 100 MRJ aircraft (50 firm, with 50 options). This followed a launch order from All Nippon Airways (ANA) in March 2005. The ANA order comprised 15 firm aircraft and 10 options.

First flight of an MRJ is due in 2012, with first delivery scheduled for 2014. The MRJ 90, which has a list price of $40 million, will come to market first, with the MRJ 70 ($34 million) following a year later.

MAC intends to support the aircraft itself, with support from programme partners Boeing and Saab. It has made applications to the Federation Aviation Administration (FAA), European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Japanese regulator JCAB for type certification, and plans to downselect pilot training partners by the end of this year.

While acknowledging that the USA is "still the biggest market" for regional jets, Takigawa says that MAC "continues to talk to airlines around the globe".

Fukuhara believes that MRJs could replace turboprops in some areas thanks to their "better economics".

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