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MRJ breaks into US market with Trans States order

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In a move that could reshape the US regional jet landscape, feeder carrier Trans States Airlines signed an LOI for up to 100 MRJ aircraft.

The order includes 50 firm aircraft and 50 options and is one of the biggest in a year that has seen few large orders, especially from US carriers.

Trans States currently operates a fleet of ERJ-145 and CRJ700 (subsidiary GoJet) aircraft for US Airways Express and United Express.

The introduction of the MRJ to US regional feeder routes adds a fifth major player in the North American commercial jet transport market along side Boeing, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier. In particular, the MRJ takes direct aim at the market currently occupied by Bombardier's CRJ700 and CRJ900 aircraft, as well as Embraer's E-Jet family.

The significance of this order is not to be underestimated. A Japanese aircraft breaking into the US regional market could be on par with the 1986 order by Northwest Airlines and the 1996 order by United Airlines for A320 family aircraft, opening the door to a flood of new operators.

The order also represents the US commercial launch of the Pratt & Whitney PW1000G turbofan, as well as the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics platform.

Delivery dates have not yet been set, however the MRJ plans to enter service in 2014 with launch customer ANA. Trans States did not specify a breakdown of selected variants, but have said they are interested in the 92-seat MRJ90, the 78-seat MRJ70, and the proposed stretched variant of the aircraft with 100 seats.

The order comes three weeks after Mitubishi unveiled major changes to the MRJ design including shifting the wing from composite to aluminum.

"Conceptually, this is a very big change," admits Mitsubishi Aircraft. "Structural changes are easier and require shorter lead-time with aluminium wings. With an aluminium wing box, the wing structure can be more easily optimised for the MRJ70/90 and the stretch model, which enhances the overall competitiveness of the MRJ family."

The change will allow its engineers to develop an optimum wing for the MRJ90 and minimise the deterioration of range performance for the stretched version. The biggest benefit will be for the MRJ70, which will weigh less.

"This will allow weight reduction through structural changes, allowing for larger winglets and resulting in a reduction of block fuel [consumption] and take-off performance improvement," says Mitsubishi.

As a result, Mitsubishi has thickened the now-aluminum wing of the MRJ resulting in a 27 knot decrease in cruise speed while seeking to maintain the aircrafts planned fuel burn advantage over today's regional jets.

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