Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mitsubishi mulls launching feeder airline.

On September 4th, Mitsubishi and group company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, along with Japan Tourism Marketing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japan's largest travel agency JTB, University of Tokyo, Development Bank of Japan, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT), and others held the first meeting of a committee aiming at launching a new commuter airline that would fly regional jets to serve rural routes. Officials from All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA) and Japan Airlines (JL/JAL) were invited as well.
Prototype Mitsubishi MRJ90 JA21MJ inside their factory at Nagoya's Komaki. Official roll-out is planned for October 18th with first flight to take place in spring 2015. (Photo: Mitsubishi)

The Committee for Next Generation Community Airline Network calls for the new carrier to fly the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) family to connect existing major hubs, rural cities, and regional international destinations in China and South Korea on behalf of major carriers ANA, JAL, and overseas airlines. Members believe that operating the fuel-efficient MRJ on a platform to commonly feed all the major carriers would enable them to cut costs and offer lower fares that would lead to "revitalizing underutilized rural airports," according to Yuichi Hiromoto, the Mitsubishi executive heading the group.

Similar to the model common in the U.S., the new airline would be a feeder carrier for the majors and would not be selling tickets on their own. However, current laws in Japan do not allow the operating airline and the ticket-selling company to be different corporations, so the committee will ask the MLIT to ease the rules. Japan is targeting 20 million annual visitors by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics, and the new airline would offer a cost-effective alternative to Tokyo's congested Haneda (HND/RJTT) and Narita (NRT/RJAA) airports, members say. Operations are targeted as early as 2017, when the first MRJ is delivered to launch customer ANA, which has 25 on order. 

Although plagued by delays, the prototype MRJ will finally be rolled out on October 18th at Mitsubishi's plant at Nagoya/Komaki (NKM/RJNA), with first flight slated for April or May 2015. Along with ANA, JAL also recently became a customer (JAL orders 32 Mitsubishi MRJs and 27 Embraer E-Jets.), ordering 32 for deliveries starting in 2021. Powered by Pratt & Whitney's PurePower PW1200G series geared turbofan engines, the MRJ family consists of the 78-seat MRJ70, which can fly 3,380 kilometers (2,100 miles), and the 92-seat MRJ90, with a 3,310-kilometer (2,050 miles) range. It is Japan's first commercial airliner since the NAMC YS-11 was introduced in 1965.

Reference: Nikkei Shimbun, September 2nd. (in Japanese)
Reference: NHK, September 5th. (in Japanese)

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