Mitsubishi Introduces the Efficient But Range-Limited SpaceJet M100 for the US Market

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.

The M100

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.

Chicago/O’Hare via Great Circle Mapper

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.

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19 Responses to Mitsubishi Introduces the Efficient But Range-Limited SpaceJet M100 for the US Market

  1. Evil Bob Crandall says:

    CF,
    With all of the attention that the MAX is getting I was wondering if the multi-year delay in getting this plane to market means that the design and engineering is outdated.

  2. Tim Dunn says:

    There is certain to be demand for a more efficient, new generation-powered (PW GTF) large regional jet, even with US pilot scope clauses. Unless Embraer figures out a way to get weight out of the E2, the market is likely Mitsubishi’s as current generation large regional jets reach their end of life. Since there are have been hundreds of CRJ900s and E175s sold to regional carriers flying for AA, DL, and UA, there is a market that will eventually be filled.
    Also remember that AS does not have any meaningful scope clauses so they could order the larger version of the Space Jet.

    Mitsubishi needs to have a product for the US market but might be able to sell enough of the modified versions to meet US pilot scope requirements and still sell more of other models elsewhere in the world.

  3. SEAN says:

    What about JetBlue… didn’t they want to exit from the E190 do to issues with reliability? Perhaps the 90 version could be a decent replacement.

    • Tim Dunn says:

      JetBlue ordered the A220

    • Noah says:

      They ordered the a220.

      With the E190, aside from the really rocky introduction, there is still a cost problem. And this is for an airline that got a screaming deal on the plane. While seating configs have changed, soon after EIS to Jetblue, the e190 held 66% of the seats of an a320 (100 vs 150) but it supposedly cost about 75% of an a320 to operate. So the question becomes, are you better off with those lower trip costs for off-peak days, times, and opening new cities as originally envisioned, or, do you have simplicity of one fleet type (less spare parts and planes, equipment, training, etc.) and just sell more discounted seats and try to fill the plane.

      The a220, being a new generation, created a step change in efficiency where it is projected to be both more reliable and more efficient to operate. So JetBlue chose it to replace the 190.

  4. henry LAX says:

    “Certainly with the more efficient E2 being out of the grasp of US carriers, the M100 will be the most efficient in the market.”

    Welcome to the single dumbest policy force shoved onto airlines by the ALPA – merely putting 77 seats into E75 instead of 76 completely disqualifies it from regional capacity purchasing, a meaningless cutoff that yes and no to planes based on artificial seat count instead of the plane itself, or even by floor space if one is that pedantic on precision.

    Pilot pay scales are based purely on the plane itself not the artificial seat count, but somehow those hypocrites don’t extend the same fairness to the airlines when determining what they’re even allowed to purchase.

    • Tim Dunn says:

      Considering that UA has nearly 1 1/2 times more departures for N. America flights on RJs than they do on mainline narrowbody aircraft and half of their N. America seats are on RJs, there is good reason why ALPA has drawn the line and it has to be very clearly marked with specific metrics.

      In contrast, RJ schedules represent 80% of AA’s N. American mainline narrowbody flights and about 1/3 of their N. American mainline narrowbody seats.

      For AS, RJ + turboprop flights account for 2/3 of the number of mainline flights and nearly 1/3 of the number of seats.

      For DL, the number of RJ flights is 41% of mainline narrowbody flights in N. America while RJs account for less than 20% of their N. America seats on mainline narrowbody aircraft

      So, yes, ALPA has good reason to put limits on the use of large RJs.

      • henry LAX says:

        and once again, misses the point. i didn’t say a line shouldn’t be drawn, but it should’ve been drawn on a plane basis not a meaningless seat count one that apparently can completely reclassify the exact same plane if you switch one row in the front from 3 F seats in 1-2 to 4 Y seats in 2-2. That kind of contract says brain dead to me.

        A contract that says up to E75 is regional, E90 or plus mainline is total fairness Cutting the E75 in half like that ? Seriously ?

        • CF says:

          henry – From a management perspective, yes. But if you’re a pilot, why on earth would you give up what you’ve already negotiated? There would have to be some pretty big incentive for them to be willing to make that change, and I don’t know what that would be.

          • DesertGhost says:

            I can think of one. Fewer but larger outsourced aircraft could be permitted in return for more mainline aircraft (while keeping overall capacity relatively flat). Delta has already done this, and it seems to be working pretty well. The Stats pointed out by Tim Dunn illustrate what that change could look like industry-wide. Delta has a smaller percentage of outsourced flights than either United or American. It also has more 100 seat aircraft. And at least at this point, Delta apparently has higher margins and is more profitable on a percentage basis than either United or American, so … draw your own conclusions. If Delta’s results are the result of larger aircraft (which is an overall industry trend anyway), both sides could truly win something, which is the real goal of negotiation. The only losers could be smaller towns (which are already seeing less service) and a few pilots at the bottom of the seniority lists. But if there truly is a pilot shortage, that may not be a big problem in the long run (and fewer overall aircraft need fewer pilots…).

            • Tim Dunn says:

              DesertGhost,
              well said.

              Delta also got rid of about 100 50 seat RJs as it brought the 717s onboard. A big part of DL’s better margins are undoubtedly because it does not use near as many of the highest CASM domestic aircraft (50 seat regional jets).

              It is worth noting that Delta mainline serves 40 more cities in the US (about 145) than American or United which means that Delta serves more cities in the US with mainline aircraft than any other airline. Delta still has enough small RJs to serve small markets as AA and UA do so there is no negative impact for small cities. The 717 is a big part of that. The size of Delta’s hubs, esp. Atlanta, are another big factor. Delta can send a mainline aircraft from Atlanta while that would be too much aircraft from most other hubs. The A220 is quickly replacing E175s in a number of highly competitive markets such as IAH and DFW.

              Since all of the big 3 have limits on the number of large RJs, DL’s addition of 717s and A220s largely from hubs allows them to use their Ejets in competitive hub routes and also to develop their focus cities. Many of their SEA routes started as Ejets and are being upgraded to A220s.

              Competitively, ORD has 2 hubs – AA and UA – and the potential for increased gauge at one of the largest airports in the world is diminished.

              There still is more than compelling evidence that UA should operate a 100 seat mainline aircraft. If DL can make the economics work on both the older 717 and the A220, AA and UA could make the E2 jets or A220 work at mainline- if they are willing to grow their mainline networks. Right now, AA and UA are more interested in funding their domestic growth via regional carriers which is precisely why ALPA and the APA have firm objections to large RJs.

              The reason why ALPA (and the APA at American) is taking a strong objection to scope relaxation on regional jets is because the US airline industry is probably at its peak profitability, unions ignored the 50 seaters when they were introduced, and airlines pushed through 76 seaters when the economy tanked post 9/11. The unions are not willing to allow that scenario to be repeated in the future.

              And pilot unions would not be the least bit disappointed if airlines come to the conclusion that CR9 and E175 generation jets are not economical anymore in light of the A220, larger E2 jets, and smaller MAX and NEOs.

              there is plenty of reason why pilot unions will “just say no.” It will be companies like Mitsubishi that will design a new generation aircraft around scope clauses rather than expecting them to be changed as Embraer is hoping for the E2 to sell

            • CF says:

              DesertGhost – Labor has shown willingness to allow more 76-seat aircraft on the property in exchange for smaller widebodies flying mainline, but not even Delta has been able to get pilots to agree to lift the cap.

            • DesertGhost says:

              I know. It’s hard to sell concessions from anyone. Just look at the outcry when someone appears to cut benefits from a reward program for instance. It’s no different with labor unions. People don’t like change. I was just throwing the idea out there. In terms of American, if the airline eliminated about 150 aircraft (all of its 50 seat and smaller planes) in exchange for an order of say, 100 A220s? You’re probably right. It won’t fly (pun intended).

            • DesertGhost says:

              From what I understand, American could do what I suggested above without negotiating anything if it had the A220s. Its scope is quite accommodating regarding 65 seat aircraft. It seems shortsighted to not bend scope a little to accommodate the E2 and MRJ. But I’m not in a labor union either.

  5. Oliver says:

    “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? ”

    Good customer experience doesn’t seem to be a high priority criteria in aircraft selection for airlines.

    • Tim Dunn says:

      The M100 is powered by new generation engines. The E175 (not the E2 version) is not. Range will be traded on the Mitsubishi jets because of the heavier but more fuel-efficient engines. The SpaceJet should still be able to fly 4 hour flights.

  6. Kai Morgan says:

    As of 2015 UA flew IAH-YUL on the E175 under Shuttle America / Republic Airlines, at 1,584 Mi, it’s a little longer. Just a small difference tho.

    • CF says:

      Kai – That’s 1,584 statute miles, or only 1,377 nautical miles. It’s a fair bit shorter than Chicago-Eugene.

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