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The Future of the Regional Jet

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Game-changing regional jets are in high demand in developed and emerging markets. Hideyuki Kamiya, Director, Head of Marketing, Sales and Marketing Department, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, explains more and describes how Japan’s next-generation regional jet is on track for its first flight

Global air traffic accelerated by strong economic growth

Worldwide demand for air traffic has grown considerably compared with past levels, although it has temporarily slackened. During the 1990s, growth was led by developed nations in general and Western countries in particular. In more recent years, it is developing nations, especially those in Asia, to which the impetus for growth has shifted. In the future, however, although the speed of growth will differ, it will continue in both developed and developing nations so that global air traffic is expected to expand at even higher rates.

The main driver of air traffic growth is economic growth. Since 2008, the global economy has been through a slowdown amid setbacks such as the ‘Lehman Shock’ and the European debt crisis. But now, the world economic outlook seems to have finally entered into a genuine recovery phase, and continued economic growth is forecast for the long term. Aside from the economic trend, factors that will likely increase utilisation of air traffic will include increases in population size, GDP per-capita and urbanisation.

More efficient aircraft operation required for sustainable management
While airlines see the potential for future business opportunities in this market expansion, they also face burdens such as higher operating costs due to the drastic increase in fuel prices since the first decade of the century, and diminished yields due to intensification of the competitive environment. Sustainable business management will therefore require ever more efficient aircraft operation and further increased profitability.

Trend toward ‘upsizing’ from 50-seat regional jets in US and Europe
Since the 1990’s, regional jets have mostly been flown on feeder routes within the hub-and-spoke systems used primarily in the United States and Europe. This kind of use is forecast to continue in the future in these geographical regions, where flight networks have matured. However, efforts to bring down per-seat operating costs resulting from soaring fuel prices are expected to bring about a shift in demand from airplanes seating 50-70 to those seating 70-100.

Smaller aircraft with lower cost per trip suitable for new flight services in emerging nations
The same kind of hub-and-spoke systems as those used in the United States and Europe are expected to be widespread in developing nations in the near future. Regional jets are therefore expected to be increasingly put to use on feeder routes. In addition, as air transport liberalisation exemplified by the ASEAN Open skies agreement continues, flight operations are anticipated on new routes between city pairs never before linked by air service. Using large mainline airliners as the airplanes to be introduced into service on these new routes poses too great a risk. The need for smaller aircraft seating 100 or less and presenting reduced cost per trip is therefore expected. This will increase the opportunities for use of regional jets.

More than 5,000 aircraft needed for future regional jet market
Our forecast anticipates worldwide delivery of more than 5,000 regional jets seating 70-100 in the next 20 years. Half of that demand will come from North America and Europe, with the remainder expected to come from developing nations in regions such as Asia Pacific and Central / South America.

MRJ - Japan’s next-generation regional jet achieves significantly lower operating costs
The MRJ (Mitsubishi Regional Jet), developed by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, is a family of 70  to 90 seat next-generation regional jet. The MRJ is designed to achieve significantly lower operating costs than currently operating regional jets as a result of reductions mainly in fuel consumption. We believe that features such as advanced aerodynamics and a newly developed fuel-efficient next-generation Pratt & Whitney's PurePower® engine all contribute to an over 20% reduction in fuel consumption compared with other regional jets currently in operation. With these engineered features, the MRJ contributes to enhancing airline operators’ competitiveness and profitability.

The MRJ will have a four-abreast seat configuration with ample seat width, aisle width, head & foot clearance, and large overhead bins. Passengers can easily access seats and overhead bins as there will be no awkward middle seats. Overhead bins have enough space to accommodate IATA-standard maximum size roller bags. The aircraft will feature the widest economy class slim seat among the regional jets. Compared with conventional economy class configurations and interior appointments, the MRJ’s slim seat ergonomic design, thinner profile, and greater leg room come together for significantly enhanced passenger comfort.

The MRJ will also contribute to the environmental protection, as it will meet the latest noise regulations and emission requirements, and will be able to meet future environmental guidelines. The aircraft will be the most quiet and ‘cleanest’ regional jet in the class.

MRJ receives 325 orders from three customers
As of May 2014, Mitsubishi Aircraft has already received orders for 325 aircraft, including 25 (15 firm, 10 option) from All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd., 100 (50 firm, 50 option) from Trans States Holdings, Inc., and 200 (100 firm, 100 option) from SkyWest, Inc.

MRJ on track for first flight
MRJ is making steady progress for smooth take-off. In October 2013, the final assembly of the first flight test aircraft commenced, following the transfer of the mid-fuselage to its final assembly plant. The main wings were delivered to the final-assembly factory in April 2014. As of May, the outfitting and joint of wings and fuselage are underway. The second flight test aircraft is also under final assembly, and the joint of fuselage is underway. Also, the static strength test aircraft was transferred in early May from the final-assembly factory to the strength test station. The test is scheduled to start this summer, after preparations are completed. These achievements clearly testify that the program is on track for the first flight in the second quarter of 2015 with the first aircraft delivery in the second quarter of 2017.

In February 2014, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries gave an update about its comprehensive production base expansion scheme for the mass production of the aircraft. To accommodate MRJ’s flight-related testing needs, including test flights and aircraft parking, the company plans to use Nagoya Airport in Aichi Prefecture, with Kitakyushu Airport in Fukuoka Prefecture serving in a subordinate role. Plans call for production to be carried out at five bases primarily in the Nagoya area: the existing Oye Plant and Iwatsuka Plant both in Nagoya, the Tobishima Plant just southwest of Nagoya, the Matsusaka Plant in Mie Prefecture, and a newly planned site adjacent to Nagoya Airport. In addition, production will be launched at MHI's Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works in Hyogo Prefecture.

Mitsubishi Aircraft is confident that MRJ has been making steady progress on schedule for the first flight and the first delivery. The company remains firmly committed to the success of the MRJ program as well as the growth of Japan’s aviation industry, and aims to capture half of the regional jet market for a long-term period.

 

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