The Paris Air Show opens next week, and that’s always a big venue for aircraft-related announcements. Mitsubishi, however, has decided to jump the gun just a bit. This morning it announced the introduction of the SpaceJet M100 to compete in the US market. (It expects a formal launch of the aircraft by year-end.) I wouldn’t have said this a year ago, but Mitsubishi is now positioning itself as a major player in the US regional market despite range limitations.
From MRJ to SpaceJet
This airplane actually goes back many years to when Mitsubishi decided to get into the regional jet game with its MRJ70 and MRJ90 aircraft. The jets are in flight testing, but they have faced multi-year delays. The smaller MRJ70 has no orders, so Mitsubishi has decided to kill it entirely. The larger MRJ90 has now been re-branded the SpaceJet M90 in advance of its planned entry into service next year. But the M90 is too big for the US market.
What do I mean by that? Well, the big US airlines have shown no willingness to fly airplanes with fewer than 100 seats directly. Instead they outsource those to regional operators like SkyWest, Mesa, Trans States, Republic, etc. The contracts with the mainline unions, however, restrict those outsourced airplanes to having no more than 76 seats on them, and they can’t have a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of more than 86,000 pounds. The M90 is built for a different market with an MTOW of over 94,000 pounds and room for a few more people, so it’s just too big for the US.
At first it seemed like Mitsubishi was just willing to concede the US market. Sure it had orders from SkyWest and Trans States, but I had no expectation of those ever being delivered since they wouldn’t have any airline for which to fly them. But things have changed a fair bit in the US market in the last year, and Mitsubishi sees an opening.
The 50-seaters are not a part of the conversation for anyone, as evidenced by even the existence of the idea of the CRJ550. Boeing has taken the rest of Embraer’s commercial jet operation under its wings. The new E2 is the primary focus, but that is also too heavy for the US market. So it’s the older generation Embraer 175s that are the primary sales generators here. Meanwhile Bombardier has sold the C-Series off to Airbus, which is focused on the market over 100 seats anyway. The Bombardier turboprops have been spun off as well. The CRJ series is all that’s left, but Bombardier wants out.
As The Air Current broke last week, Mitsubishi is looking at buying the CRJ family from Bombardier. This would give Mitsubishi an instant global support network. And while Mitsubishi might be able to do something with the CRJ700/900 in the future, it’s probably not going to set the world on fire. Instead, it’s introducing the M100 to carry the torch.
Rather confusingly, the M100 is smaller than the M90. It looks like they’ll shorten it and cut the wingspan by about 4 feet in each direction. The end result is an airplane that will seat 84 in a single cabin with 31 inches of pitch, or… ta-da!
There is your new generation 76-seat regional jet, ladies and gentlemen. It should be about an inch wider (at the widest point) and taller than the Embraers. They say it’ll have 18.5 inch wide seats and bins that can hold standard roller bags. Here’s a bin porn shot for you.
What we’re talking about here is a very nice airplane for travelers, just as the Embraer 175 is today. But will airlines order it?
Figuring out the M100’s Actual Range
Deciphering the actual expected performance through the PR bull is tough, but I think we can set a basic range of expectations. For example, they say that it will have a max. range of 1,910 nautical miles (nm) assuming a passenger weight of 225 pounds. But that is with an MTOW of 92,594 pounds. To get the US version with an MTOW of 86,000 pounds, Mitsubishi only says the range is “99.5% of Routes at Full Payload.” It has to take a range hit, because the bulk of that decrease in MTOW for the US has to come from limiting fuel capacity. Let’s unpack this to get to a real number.
The longest 76-seater flight I can find in North America today is Chicago/O’Hare to Eugene coming in at 1,547nm on an Embraer 175. If Mitsubishi is claiming that it can hit 99.5 percent of markets, then published range has to be less than that. I’m guessing they’d say it would be in the 1,500nm range for the US version. But even that is overly generous, because as mentioned, they will always project higher than airlines would comfortably operate.
In particular, I point to this range map that the company published for Europe.
This is going to be more realistic than just max. range, because this assumes standard temperatures, 85 percent of annual wind expectations, a 100nm alternate airport reserve, and a 5 percent allowance for airways (non-direct). But even with that, this is still generous because it’s the range map for the single class version with the higher MTOW.
As you can see, Paris to Moscow is on the edge of the circle here, and that’s only about 1,330nm. Winds aren’t likely to be better in the US than Europe, and with the fuel capacity cut required for the US version, you might be looking at range as low as 1,000nm.
Let’s just say that it’s going to settle somewhere around 1,150 to 1,250nm as the max. usable range in the US. If that’s the case, here are some examples of where that can get you from some hub locations.
This does indeed still cover more than 90 percent of the routes that are flown on 76-seaters today, but it’s obviously less than what the airlines would prefer. The Embraer 175 and CRJ-900 obviously have much longer legs.
If the Embraer 175 and the M100 have similar customer experiences but the 175 has better range, then why buy the M100 since it can’t do everything the airlines want? Economics, of course.
The Case for the M100
Again this is hard to decipher from the way it’s worded, but Mitsubishi says that in both fuel costs per trip and total trip costs, the M100 will have “double digit” cost reduction over “Comparable Jet.” Now I have to assume that’s the Embraer 175, because the CRJ900 is more efficient and Mitsubishi obviously wants to get the best comparison it can find.
Certainly with the more efficient E2 being out of the grasp of US carriers, the M100 will be the most efficient in the market. And since every airline has multiple regional partners, there’s nothing wrong with having some flying the M100 with others the Embraer 175. Those can still serve those long-hauls. Plus, I have to assume that the M100 is going to cost less to buy. Mitsubishi is hungry, and Embraer is probably hamstrung from discounting too much now that Boeing is in charge.
This means there is a real place for Mitsubishi in the regional space. If it can buy the CRJ family and get an instant support network, that’s even better. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but SkyWest and Trans States may actually end up flying those airplanes they ordered so many years ago.