Dumped into the Christmas Eve news cycle was an announcement from Mitsubishi that the company would be delaying delivery of its MRJ regional jet by a year. In the world of clean-sheet aircraft design a one year delay is not especially uncommon but this delay, both for the reasons and the timing, raises many, many questions about the viability of the MRJ project moving forward.
The delays are attributed to the aircraft requiring revisions to the wing and fuselage to increase the strength of those components. This also likely means additional weight and other challenges for getting the aircraft completed, but nothing which cannot be done. So why is this delay so significant for the MRJ project? Turns out that delivery timing is pretty significant.
Much like Bombardier and its CSeries jet getting confirmed orders for the MRJ has proven a challenge. The aircraft sits in a space with significant competition, notably Bombardier and Embraer products, and uncertain demand. The MRJ90 cannot fly as a regional aircraft in the US market today due to pilot scope clauses making it a harder sell. The smaller MRJ70 could potentially be a regional but it exists only on paper today. As for the rest of the world – many global aircraft markets are growing much faster than those in the USA – the MRJ no longer has the advantage of delivery prior to Embraer’s next generation E2 models. Nor does it have the backing of a company with decades of aircraft production experience. Bombardier is also desperate to make sales, reportedly slashing prices as it looks to shore up the product line following the $1bn investment from Montreal’s government. And, similar to Embraer, Bombardier has the history to suggest it can support customers.
ANA and JAL are customers for the aircraft but with relatively small numbers of frames. They will almost certainly hold those order slots and operate the aircraft even with the delays, but they are fewer than 50 of the 223 firm orders. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if the two largest customers representing 150 of the frames – nearly 70% – weren’t US regional operators who may use the delay and uncertainty with delivery timing and future scope clause scenarios to alter or scrap their orders. Then again, maybe the delay allows more time to negotiate those scope clause challenges away, though that seems unlikely given recent news from pilot/airline negotiations and moves by Delta and United Airlines to add 100 seat aircraft to their mainline fleets; American Airlines already has the Embraer E90s as such.
So, no market to speak of in the US and minimal commitments elsewhere. Plus at least a one year delay while the company retrofits strengthening facets of the wing and fuselage. I’m betting against any new orders while that process is underway meaning a very, very bleak and uncertain future for the type.
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