Mitsubishi Aircraft continues to eye Latin America for orders for its MRJ regional jets, with the company's Americas chief predicting sales will begin to accumulate as soon as the region's economy improves.
Masao Yamagami, chairman and chief executive of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation America, predicts that Latin American carriers will need 350 regional jets in the MRJ size within 20 years.
"We still believe the MRJ size of the regional jet is necessary to Latin America," he says on the sidelines of the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Mexico City. "Someday, the major airlines will try to introduce smaller aircraft to serve those under-served city pairs."
"It makes economic sense," Yamagami adds of the MRJ.
But the region's countries, particularly the economic heavyweight Brazil, continue to struggle with challenging economic conditions. Brazil has also faced political turmoil.
Like other airline and manufacturing executives, Yamagami believes economic conditions are already beginning to improve, but expects the recovery will take several more years. "It has already hit the bottom, judging from the statistics. We are now in the recovery stage," Yamagami says.
Mitsubishi thinks it has an advantage in the 70- to 80-seat aircraft market, noting that Embraer has been particularly pushing its larger E195-E2, which competes more with Bombardier's CSeries.
Yamagami also praised the performance of the MRJ's Pratt & Whitney PW1200G powerplants at high-altitude airports such as those in Mexico City, Bogota and Ecuador.
And he says the MRJ90 has nearly the same seat-mile cost as a current-generation Boeing 737, but has a trip cost that is 40% less than the narrowbody's.
Mitsubishi is also keeping a close eye on Pratt & Whitney after production problems led P&W to reduce 2016 GTF production, forcing Bombardier to delay CSeries deliveries.
But Yamagami doubts the slowdown will impact MRJ deliveries because he believes P&W will fix the production issues within a couple years.
Meanwhile, flight testing continues.
An MRJ flight test aircraft arrived in Moses Lake, Washington in September and began test flights in October, the company has said.
Yamagami says flight tests have been progressing "very well" and that a "small problem" has already been addressed. He declines to discuss the issue, but expresses confidence Mitsubishi will deliver the first aircraft to launch customer ANA in mid-2018.
Deliveries had been scheduled to begin in 2017, but last year the company pushed back deliveries by one year.
"We have some challenges," Yamagami says. "But thanks to Moses Lake, we may be able to catch up."
A second flight-test aircraft should arrive in the USA within one or two weeks and another two are expected to arrive by the end of the year, says Yamagami.
Once all aircraft are in the USA, each aircraft will be performing up to two test flights daily, he says, noting that Mitsubishi already has about 100 Japanese employees working in Moses Lake.
Mitsubishi has received orders for 233 MRJs, including those from Aerolease International, Air Mandalay, ANA, Eastern Air Lines, Japan Air Lines, SkyWest Airlines and Trans States Holdings, according to Flight Fleets Analyzer.
For coverage of the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum taking place in Mexico City on 13-15 November, visit www.flightglobal.com/alta