PARIS (Reuters) - Mitsubishi Aircraft believes its MRJ regional jet has a place in the 70-90-seat market despite the launch of an upgraded model by rival Embraer and challenges getting the plane in the air by the end of the year, its president said.
The Japanese company, which launched the MRJ in March 2008, has delayed its first flight by about a year to the end of 2013 after encountering hurdles during its development.
Teruaki Kawai, Mitsubishi Aircraft’s president and chief operating officer, told Reuters the company would start final assembly by the autumn and aim to keep to the flight target.
“We have not produced new civil airplanes for a long time, and it is a big challenge for us,” he said at the Paris Airshow on Tuesday.
Mitsubishi Aircraft is partly owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the 64-seat YS-11 in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mitsubishi has secured 165 firm MRJ orders since its launch from Japan’s All Nippon Airways and U.S. regional carriers Trans States Holdings and SkyWest Inc, with options for another 160 jets.
Brazil’s Embraer, however, launched larger and more fuel-efficient variants of its E-Jets on Monday with total firm orders and commitments for up to 365 planes. These included 100 firm orders from SkyWest.
Kawai said Embraer’s decision to revamp its E-Jets and fit them with the new Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan (GTF) engines - which the MRJ will also use - vindicated Mitsubishi’s decision to build the MRJ.
Indeed, some industry analysts say Embraer’s move is largely due to the challenge posed by the MRJ.
“Our airplane has an advantage to theirs: we designed a brand new aircraft based on the GTF engine, and they are trying to modify their current aircraft,” said Kawai, who added that customers preferred to be able to choose between two strong competitors.
“SkyWest is their customer and our customer,” Kawai said. “They have a large fleet of more than 700 airplanes that they need to replace. They do not want a monopoly but a duopoly. It is a reasonable choice for them to pick two aircraft.”
The company has forecast a potential market of 5,000 jets in the segment over the next 20 years, and Kawai believes Mitsubishi and Embraer will likely divide that equally.
Kawai said “a lot of airlines” were interested in the MRJ, without giving details.
Editing by James Regan