Japan Airlines eyes more regional jets but cool towards MRJ

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Japan Airlines is assessing its requirements for more regional jets, but the Mitsubishi MRJ is not expected to be a strong contender.

The Oneworld carrier's fleet includes 11 Embraer E-170s and nine Bombardier CRJ200s, which its subsidiary J-Air operates on domestic services.

The airline wants to replace the CRJ200s with new regional jets, says JAL chairman Masaru Onishi. The oldest JAL CRJ200 was built 13 years ago and the newest seven years ago, according to Flightglobal's Ascend database.

While Embraer has been trying to convince JAL that it needs more E-Jets, Bombardier has been boosting its sales presence to promote its newer CRJ aircraft as well as its CSeries. Mitsubishi Aircraft, which signed up All Nippon Airways as the MRJ's launch customer, is hopeful of getting Japan's flag carrier on board.

Onishi says JAL is not keen to add a new aircraft type to its fleet, and suggests that E-Jets - especially the re-engined variants that promise better economics than the existing types - could be the solution for the airline.

"Introducing additional Embraer jets is an option," he says during an interview with Flightglobal publication Airline Business.

"I am not sure if we can manage three types of aircraft at the same time, but the CRJs will soon need to be retired. So our option is to order additional Embraer jets or choose some different type of aircraft."

When asked if JAL will consider the domestically designed and produced Mitsubishi MRJ, Onishi says: "No comment."

Onishi declines to say when JAL plans to make a decision or how many aircraft it needs.

JAL's lack of interest in the MRJ is a shift from what the airline would have done before its 2010 bankruptcy, say industry sources. Previously, under government pressure, the airline would probably have been one of the first to sign up for the MRJ. Post-bankruptcy, however, JAL keeps a close eye on anything that could keep its costs down and is more likely to make decisions based on commercial viability.

Mitsubishi officials have their work cut out trying to convince JAL about their aircraft's advantages, they add.

The airline is worried about the purchase price and operating costs of the MRJ, and has doubts about Mitsubishi's ability to provide proper post-sales customer support. After-sales support is much clearer with Embraer and its E-Jets, and JAL's familiarity with the type makes it a better fit, they add.

You can read more Airline Business cover interviews here.