If you can’t join them, buy them. This appears to be the most recent tack in Mitsubishi Heavy Industry’s plan to join the ranks of aircraft manufacturers.
The company, still in the very delayed flight testing stages of its own Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) program now appears set to purchase the CRJ program from Bombardier. An announcement is expected as soon as the Paris Air Show later this month. Or maybe not at all. While the two parties are confirmed to be in negotiations there is no guarantee a deal will develop.
For its part, Bombardier wants to exit the commercial aircraft business after more than 30 years in that market. The company first sold off the CSeries line to Airbus then its Q400 turboprop to Viking; the latter deal just closed. It has sold scant few new CRJ frames to airlines in recent years; the product line is dying. Bombardier needs somewhere to offload the regional jet business and interested parties appear few and far between.
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On the other side of the negotiating table – and the two are understood to be in exclusive negotiations – sits Mitsubishi. The company is billions of dollars deep into the MRJ program with little to show for it on the commercial front. The larger MRJ90 model continues its flight test program, inching towards certification. But its order book remains static at just over 200 firm commitments and 70% of those will not fly with the airlines that ordered them. Something must change.
One possible change tipped was a shift in the design ethos around the smaller MRJ70 program. Rather than depending wholly on Japanese home-grown efforts to develop the type the company was reportedly considering shifting some design and manufacturing processes to the United States. Pushing that slightly north to Canada would not be too far a stretch.
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Even with the CRJ program integrated into Mitsubishi’s operations questions remain about the long-term viability of the product line. Recent CRJ sales were limited to the larger CRJ900 frames while the 700 series, the size eligible to fly at US regional carriers, remains stagnant. Bombardier introduced the Atmosphere cabin interior concept nearly two years ago in hopes of reviving the brand. A couple orders, including a decently sized fleet refresh from Delta, trickled in.
But the CRJ line trails Embraer‘s re-engined competition for new orders. And from a passenger comfort perspective the Bombardier model generally trails Embraer as well. The larger lav and overhead bins of the Atmosphere cabin should help on that front, but it is an uphill battle to convince the market of these improvements.
Mitsubishi has not shown much initiative to date in disruptive thinking around the MRJ interiors. The mock-ups shown at air shows are sufficient, of course, but not especially innovative. Perhaps combining some of the Atmosphere concepts into the design will help on that front.