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SkyWest dampens on MRJ plans

Utah-based SkyWest Inc has dampened its tone on the Mitsubishi Aircraft MRJ90, as US scope clause relief remains elusive at its partners.

“[It’s a] great airplane, we’re just not to a position today on the [MRJ90] that we have scope relief,” says Chip Childs, chief executive of SkyWest, at the Regional Airlines Association (RAA) annual convention in Charlotte. “Until we can get scope, we’re likely not a real serious candidate to take that.”

His comments are the first time SkyWest management has acknowledged the airline may not be able to take delivery of its firm orders for 100 MRJ90s and options for 100 more.

With a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 39,600kg, the MRJ90 is just over the limit of 39,010kg (86,000lb) for regional jets in US pilot contracts. The aircraft is also suited for 81 to 84 seats in a dual-class configuration, while scope clauses limit regional jets to 76 seats.

Delta Air Lines is in negotiations with pilots on a new contract, however, scope relief that would allow for the MRJ90 or the Embraer 175-E2 is not expected.

The next opportunity to change scope limits will be at United Airlines when its contract with pilots becomes amendable in January 2019. The pilots contract at American Airlines expires a year later, in January 2020.

SkyWest does have the option to convert some MRJ90s to the smaller MRJ70, which meets current US scope requirements, says Childs.

“Our challenge is we have a lot of 70 seaters today,” he says.

The MRJ70 has an MTOW of 36,850kg and can seat 69 passengers in a standard dual-class configuration, according to Mitsubishi.

SkyWest could cancel its MRJ90 order, though it has “no intention” to do so currently, says Childs in response to media questions.

Richard Leach, president of Trans States Holdings – the other US regional with a MRJ90 order – is more optimistic about its commitments for 100 MRJ90s.

“We’re excited to get the aircraft over here in the US,” he says at RAA. Mitsubishi is conducting much of its flight test programme at Moses Lake, Washington, with the first flight test aircraft expected to arrive this summer.

Trans States, which faces the same scope limits as SkyWest, also has conversion options for the MRJ70.

“If you look at where the market’s going to go in the next 25 years, I think the [MRJ90] brings more to the table,” says Leach, adding he would prefer for Trans States to take the larger aircraft.

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