Vietnam may end up being the first export market for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ (MHI) new regional jet aircraft which is expected to be officially launched next week with a Japanese carrier as launch customer.

A Vietnam Airlines official in Hanoi says a deal is being negotiated between the Japanese aircraft manufacturer, the airline, the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam and the Vietnamese government.

He says Vietnam Airlines is looking to order 20 Mitsubishi Regional Jets (MRJs) and in return MHI is offering to shift some MRJ parts production to north Vietnam.

The official was unable to say when Vietnam Airlines may come to a decision but he says if the deal goes through it will be significant because currently Vietnam has almost no manufacturing for the aerospace industry. MHI is one of the main suppliers to Boeing.

An MHI spokesman in Tokyo would neither confirm nor deny that it is speaking to Vietnam Airlines and discussing the transfer of some MRJ parts manufacture to the country.

But the spokesman says in January MHI’s aerospace division established MHI Aerospace Vietnam at the Thang Long Industrial Park in Hanoi to manufacture flaps for Boeing 737s. Manufacturing of these parts is due to start in the March-May period of 2009, he adds.

MHI has said repeatedly it hopes to officially launch the MRJ programme at the end of the current financial year – which is 31 March – and that it anticipates it will have at least one Japanese carrier as a launch customer.

The manufacturer plans to build a 70-seat MRJ70 and a 90-seat MRJ90 and have the first aircraft enter service in 2012.