Japan’s first commercial jetliner, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) 90 took to the skies at 8:30 in the morning from Japan’s Nagoya airfield, for a flight that lasted nearly 85 minutes long. The flight was conducted by a MRJ 90 STD, registered JA21MJ, with construction (serial) number 10001. The aircraft flew with a constant flap setting, landing gear down and locked, and thrust reversers de-activated.
The first flight marks a major milestone for a program that is significantly delayed. The first flight was planned for 2012.
The 92 seat MRJ 90 has a seating capacity that directly competes with the 88 seat Embraer E175, and the 90 seat Bombardier CRJ 900. However, the aircraft is fitted with Pratt & Whitney’s high bypass Geared Turbofan Engines (GTF), which allow the aircraft superior fuel economics than any sub-100 seat regional jet, today. This is the MRJ 90’s USP.
Below is a comparison of key performance, weights and dimensions between the Bombardier CRJ900, Embraer E175, and the Mitsubishi MRJ 90:
Below is the comparison of ranges between all three aircraft and their sub variants:
The last Japanese commercial airliner program was the YS-11 turboprop airliner, in 1960. The MRJ program, which marks a comeback of the Japanese airliner market after a gap of nearly 60 years, adds an additional player in the regional jet market.
The regional jetliner market today is dominated largely by Embraer and Bombardier, with Embraer grabbing a larger share of the pie. Sukhoi’s Superjet International SSJ 100, a 100 seat regional jetliner, is so far an insignificant player. China’s regional jet, the ARJ 21, hasn’t yet entered service. Mitsubishi becomes the fifth player.
However, Mitsubishi will be the third aircraft program to penetrate the United States Market. 76% of the MRJ 90’s firm orders are from airlines in the United States. 170 aircraft are ordered by three US regional airlines: Trans States Holdings (a holding company for three regional airlines), Sky West, and Eastern Airlines.
A new aircraft brings with it two key questions that affect sales : How reliable will the aircraft be, and how good with the customer support be?
A new aircraft will almost always have issues with reliability before the aircraft ‘matures’ and corrections are made to the production aircraft. This has been seen with the Boeing 787, the Embraer E190 (when it entered service with JetBlue), the Airbus A380 – all new airplanes have their fair share of troubles till the product matures. The MRJ 90 will be no exception.
Customer support, which can sway market shares, has been carefully dealt with, by MRJ. Boeing Commercial Aviation Services, which today is one of the best, will provide Mitsubishi Aircraft with 24/7 customer support including spare parts provisioning, service operations and field services, until Mitsubishi takes service in-house.
Another important aspect for an airplane is the residual value of the aircraft – data that is yet unavailable. Lessors prefer to bet on airplanes that they know for certain will have a good enough market residual value to capitalise on.
Is the MRJ 90 in a good segment?
The MRJ 90 is an airplane with better market prospects than the MRJ 70. Since the beginning of 2009, Embraer has recorded 0 net orders for the 78 seat EMB170 regional jet, and Bombardier has recorded just 28 net orders for the 78 seat CRJ 700. On the other hand, since beginning 2009, Embraer has recorded a net 443 orders for the 88 seat E175 and E175E2 together, and Bombardier has recorded 139 net orders for the 90 seat CRJ 900. The 90 aircraft market has had better prospects over 27 quarters than any other size of regional jets. Below are the order graphs:
The MRJ 90 is in a very hot segment, which can get hotter if scope clauses in the United States are upward revised. The clause today limits US regional airlines to an aircraft weighing no more than 39 tonnes and limited to 76 seats. Unfortunately, the MRJ 90’s minimum maximum takeoff weight is 39.6 tonnes, while the lighter variants of the CRJ 900 and EMB 175 are within this specification.
The MRJ 90 is in a very unique position. Bombardier is not neither developing nor re-engining aircraft that are below 100 seats. The CRJ 700, 900 and 1000 aircraft will soon fade away as Embraer re-engines its aircraft and revises the wings to offer the market better versions (second generation) of the present E175, E190, and E195 regional jet models. Bombardier’s customer support history also works against the manufacturer. This effectively reduces notable competition to just Embraer and Mitsubishi in the sub-100 seat regional aircraft space.
The second generation of the Embraer E175, renamed the E175 E2, will be fitted with engines similar to the MRJ90, matching the MRJ 90’s fuel economics. However, the E175 E2 is expected to enter service only in 2020.
The MRJ 90 on the other hand is expected to enter service in 2017. However, uncertainty looms about the manufacturer sticking to its timeline, as it has not had any proven track record of dealing with jetliner programs in the recent past. Bombardier, an experienced manuafcturer, has slipped the CSeries’ timelines. It will not be surprising if Mitsubishi does the same. But even if the timelines slip by a year, to 2018, Mitsubishi will have atleast a 2 years head start over Embraer in the sub-100 seat regional jet space.
AirAsia India (AAI) took to the skies yesterday, on its first revenue flight, and marks a new chapter in Indian air transport history. The inaugural flight, i5 1320, flew from Bangalore to Goa, with almost all seats filled with excited passengers, guests, and staff.
To the paying customer, who after all is the target of every airline, four things are important, one of which is the in-flight experience, which includes aircraft cleanliness, comfort, in-flight service, and food & beverage options. AirAsia India has got it right from day one; being part of the AirAsia Group really does make all the difference.
Today, AirAsia India is a small player, but with a huge backing. It enjoys the economies of scale, and is set to take on the Indian market by storm.
In this piece, we look into what could make AAI appeal to the passenger, and why it may emerge as the preferred airline.
This piece covers Boeing’s slipping grip on the low-cost airline market, with a focus on Asia: how, why, and where.
Air Asia, and EasyJet, operators of Airbus A320 airplanes, were once Boeing 737 operators. Airbus has been on a “rampage", trying to trespass Boeing’s narrowbody territory, and plant what is today the world’s best selling airplane family.
Air Asia, which until as recently as 2010 operated Boeing 737-300 aircraft, is now an all Airbus A320 operator: operating 73 of them. Air Asia Indonesia, which also operated Boeing 737-300s, now flies 30 Airbus A320 airplanes. Lion Air of Indonesia, which operates 99 Boeing 737 aircraft, most of which are 737NG airplanes, placed a firm order for 234 Airbus A320 aircraft, including 60 Airbus A320 classic engine option airplanes. Garuda Citilink, established in 2001 as a low-cost subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia, which operated an all Boeing 737-300 and 400 fleet, now flies 24, more efficient Airbus A320s with the callsign “Supergreen".
Jet Airways has evaluated Airbus A320NEOs, and Neil Mills, the then CEO of SpiceJet, publicly announced the evaluation of a fleet switch to the A320NEO.
Boeing’s comeback: an order of 54 Boeing 737s, comprising 23 737-800s and 31 737 Max 8s from SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, which welcomed its first Boeing 737-800 (9V-MGA) at the Singapore Airshow 2014, marking the start of SilkAir’s transition to an all-Boeing fleet, from the existing fleet of 24 Airbus aircraft, comprising 6 A319s and 18 A320s. (see photo on top)
After SilkAir, Boeing is now trying to sway TigerAir to adopt its airplanes.
How: Airbus’s Successes.
Said Dinesh Keshkar, vice president, Asia-Pacific & India Sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in February 2013, after Spicejet and Jet Airways performed financially better, (after the demise of Kingfisher), “Can they sustain these yields, which I think they can because of the balance of capacity in the market. They will continue to do well and aviation will continue to grow profitably. The Indian commercial aviation market is improving with higher yields and stability in fuel charges".
The same Keshkar in February 2014 admitted that Indian carriers are “not doing well” due to the decline in the rupee, high fuel costs, and high capital costs and taxes in India. “Certainly the Indian market is not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard to make money there. Nevertheless, everybody realizes that it’s a great market and that’s why more and more people are trying to get into that market."
Said Kiran Rao, executive vice president for strategy at Airbus, in January 2013, “It’s quite understandable that with the high fuel prices and the Indian taxes, the neo really works in India,” he says. “Jet Airways and Spicejet are predominately Boeing airlines today, but we will give it a good shot.”
Two things make the Airbus A320NEO attractive: Great operating economics, and its availability atleast 2 years before the Boeing 737MAX. That gives operators the chance to start reaping the benefits of an economical airplane two years before its competition, and that amounts to saving big money.
To put things in perspective, final assembly for the first Airbus A320NEO will start in March 2014, for the planned maiden flight in autumn, kicking off a flight-test campaign with 8 Airbus A320NEO airplanes, all flying with PW1100G Geared Turbofan Engines. In contrast, the engine that will power the 737MAX, the GE-SNECMA CFM LEAP-1B variant may not take to the skies this year, as the engine manufacturer plans to begin flight tests of the A320NEO’s alternate engine, LEAP-1A, on GE’s Boeing 747 flying testbed in September 2014.
The A320NEO is expected to enter service in late 2015, while the Boeing 737MAX is expected to enter service in late 2017.
“In a high fuel cost environment, it only makes sense to consider all of the available options. We must look at the aircraft that will have the lowest operating costs and see how it fits into our fleet,” said Neil Mills in March 2013, talking about the possible switch to the Airbus A30NEO, to meet medium term fleet requirements.”We will switch from one aircraft type to another if needed. I was with Easyjet when we switched from Boeing to Airbus and we can do the same here.”
The Boeing 737-800, which compares & competes directly with the Airbus A320, burns more fuel for the same payload. The Boeing 737-800 with winglets burns as much fuel as the A320 for the same range, payload, and cruise altitude. The A320 with “sharklets”, however, beats the Boeing 737-800W, and the A320NEO, goes unmatched.
But getting efficient airplanes two years earlier isn’t everything.
A continuing fight in the World Trade Organization is between the U.S. and the European Union over government support to Boeing and Airbus. The U.S. charges that European government subsidies have allowed Airbus to undercut Boeing prices, giving Airbus an unfair advantage in the marketplace and harming the U.S. aerospace industry: Boeing has significantly streamlined its 737 production during the past two years, but company officials said their cost improvements still don’t enable them to break even at the prices Airbus is quoting for the A320.
Although Keskar says that he is “not even going to try” reaching out to AirAsia because of the large number of A320s the carrier has on its order books, Boeing apparently hasn’t stopped trying to sway the airline in its favour. However, Boeing isn’t willing to sell at any price, even though Airbus is charging far less than Boeing is willing to accept. Boeing marketing Vice President Randy Baseler said “the only standard Airbus is setting is with price” on the 2004 Air Berlin deal, in which the German carrier ordered 70 Airbus A320 aircraft . “If you cut your prices enough, anybody will take them,” he said.
Few analysts feel Airbus offers a discount of as much as 60% to sway orders in their favour, while Airbus plays down the discount.
The matter only worsens with the projected 737MAX development costs expected at twice that for the A320NEO. The 737MAX is undergoing far more changes than the famous Airbus narrowbody family.
Boeing has lost out the no-frills, low cost airline segment to Airbus. Boeing once had monopolized this segment, especially with Southwest operating 588 Boeing 737 airplanes, and RyanAir operating 298 airplanes. Now, almost all start up low cost airlines fly the Airbus A320.
India’s “model" airline, IndiGo, and other start-ups: Air Deccan, Go Air, and Kingfisher Airlines (which eventually added the low cost arm Kingfisher RED) either fly or flew Airbus A320s. New airlines on the Indian horizon, whether credible or not, plan an A320 fleet: Skyjet Airways, and Volk Air.
TATA-SIA, the most talked about airline, will have an A320 fleet of 20, all leased, and AirAsia India, in line with the other AirAsias, will also fly with Airbus A320 aircraft.
SilkAir, with a brand that is not low cost but rather full service, will feature a cabin layout of 12 Business Class and 150 Economy class seats, representing an eight percent increase on SilkAir’s current seating capacity on the dual class A320s.
The only advantage in switching to a 737NG, for SilkAir, is increasing capacity without compromising on comfort through seat pitch. But it takes a lot to convince an airline to switch; especially when they could have flown more economical with the A320 sharklets, and saved on fleet transition costs. The real reason lies behind closed, motionless lips.
Stating a SilkAir press release, “A full-service carrier that is committed to creating enjoyable and reliable travel experiences, enhancements that customers can look forward to on the new aircraft include features such as the Boeing Sky Interior, which highlights new modern sculpted sidewalls and window reveals, LED lighting that enhances the sense of spaciousness, larger pivoting overhead stowage bins as well as in-seat audio and power supply for added convenience."
Then why was Spicejet, a low cost, missed by Airbus? SpiceJet began services in May 2005, when Air Asia was still flying an all Boeing 737 fleet, and just one year after EasyJet began transitioning to a predominantly Airbus A319 fleet. It was only in the December of 2005 that AirAsia received its first Airbus A320.
Said Kiran Rao, “We should have won the SpiceJet order the first time around, but it is just that at the time we had so many orders and took our eye off the ball,”.
But TATA-SIA, a full service carrier, should have been the target of Boeing. Dinesh Keshkar said that with the huge backlog for the 737, it was not able to provide narrowbodies to Tata SIA in line with its target to start operations in 2014.
The Indian MAX announcement that never came
Boeing in late 2012 had hoped to take its first order for the 737 MAX from an Indian airline. This hope was rekindled when Boeing had mentioned revealing a “sizable order” for the MAX from an Indian carrier, during the 2014 Singapore Airshow.
Twice, Boeing’s announcements never came, although media reports Jet and SpiceJet have signed for Boeing 737MAX airplanes, in the double digit range.
This is in sharp contrast to Airbus A320NEO orders placed by IndiGo and GoAir. Further widening the Airbus-Boeing gap are reports of the likelihood of IndiGo placing an order for 200-250 “more" aircraft.
Recording the largest aviation growth, Asia is where all airplane manufacturers have trained their guns. But Asia is a cost conscious market, where the likes of low cost airlines sprout often and thrive. That makes, statistically, a great market for Airbus, and a bleak outlook for Boeing, for now atleast. Few orders for Boeing 737 airplanes are overshadowed by Airbus’ wins.
Highlights: The death of the 70 seat regional jet market, shifting market trends, and what airlines seem to trend on: affordable capacity.
50 seat regional jets heralded a new way to travel. Comfort and speed were real reasons, and offering a jet to regional customers, as opposed to a turboprop aircraft, suddenly seemed very attractive. The Embraer ERJ 145, introduced in 1996, and the Bombardier CRJ 100/200, introduced in 1992, both extremely popular 50 seat airplanes, sold 708 airplanes and 935 airplanes, respectively.
Regional aviation only continued to grow, fuelled by more efficient jets that promised good operating economics. According to Bombardier’s study in 1998, there was a growing requirement for larger aircraft in the fleets of the world’s regional airlines. To keep up with the growth in mainline fleets, Bombardier felt that regional fleet must grow in both size and capacity. The company felt that if the regional fleet did not grown beyond 50 seats, the number of 50-seaters required to satisfy demand would quadruple.
Because of this growth, regional airplanes grew in capacity, to match demand. The CRJ 700, a 70 seat regional jet from Bombardier, was introduced in 2001, and the competing Embraer 170 was introduced to airline service in 2004. As airplanes grew in size, the operational costs per seat started to fall, further opening up regional aviation to larger airplanes while gradually declining the smaller regional jet market. The market shifted, and continues to shift towards larger sized regional jets.
The CRJ 100/200 is no longer in production. In 2008, the Embraer 145 had 733 firm orders, which slumped to 708 in 2009, and has remained at that figure, over 4 years till date. By 2011, all orders had been realised through deliveries. The 50 seat jet market effectively and statistically died many, many years ago.
The CRJ 700, when introduced, did exceedingly well. Between 2000 and 2010, the order book grew by 160%, to 344 firm orders. The Embraer 170, which had a late start, touched 194 firm orders in 2009. While these were fairly good figures, the market shift hadn’t stopped.
The Embraer 190, and the CRJ 900 have seen the greatest sales growth. The E-190, when introduced in 2005 with JetBlue, had 185 firm orders. This has seen a fairly steady, and unparalleled growth to 560 in 2013: a growth of 200%. The CRJ1000 was Bombardier’s answer to the E-190, but that entered service very late, almost 5 years later, in December 2010, but firm orders stand at only 70, as of July 2013. The CRJ1000 is not much of a competitor to the E-190; The longest range version of the jet, 1,622NM, falls short of the shortest range version of the E-190: E-190STD at 1800NM. The E-190AR has a range of 2400NM.
While there was such encouraging growth in sales of 100 seat airplanes, The CRJ700 stopped building orders after 2010. In fact, after 2010, 4 firm orders were lost, with the number lazily bouncing back to 347 in 2013. After 2009, The Embraer 170’s firm orders only reduced, and hasn’t recovered since. It’s not the manufacturer. It’s the market, and the 70 seat regional jet isn’t favoured anymore. As of Sep 2013, there is a backlog of only 6 E-170, of which 2 are for Japan Airlines and 4 for ETA Star Aviation, India.
The 78-88 (80) seat E-175 is the next-best received aircraft. Orders for the type are nowhere close to that of its longer, 100 seat E-190, and had stagnated for more than 1 year in the period after 2011, at the level of the dead-market E-170. A sudden surge in orders, of 65% to 315 in 2013, is thanks to Skywest, which placed a large enough order for the type. The 90 seat CRJ900, has 306 firm orders in 2013, and witnessed a 380% surge in orders between 2005 and 2007.
A 2000NM range airplane with the ability to carry 100 passengers has been the hottest selling cake. Add another 16 to 24 seats and the offering, the E-195, isn’t quite as attractive. Bombardier’s response to the E-195 is the 125 CS100, and the unique, hitherto unmatched offering is the 135-160 seat CS300.
Proof that the market is shifting away from 70 seat jets is the fact that Embraer, that has moved forward with its plans to re-engine, significantly re-engineer and update the E-Jets to a “Second generation" of E2 jets, has the E-195-E2, the E-190-E2, and the E-175-E2, but no plans at all for the E-170-E2.
The market needs higher capacity airplanes for greater flexibility, provided that it doesn’t come at the cost of economics and performance. With economically better performing or promising airplanes hitting the market, “affordable capacity" is the market demand.
And since the E-175-E2 is planned for a 2020 Entry into service (EIS): the last amongst all re-engined E-Jets, it’s a sign of the 80 seat regional jetliner’s grave being prepared, next.
*This section is part of a much bigger, comprehensive article on the C-Series by The Flying Engineer.
An Air Costa EMB 170 prepares for its test flight at Chennai (14th October 2013)
This article talks of Air Costa’s peculiarities, as well as the costs on a particular sector and the market potential associated with that sector.
Peculiarities and Image-damage
Air Costa’s newspaper advertisement that appeared in leading dailies, on October 13th
Air Costa, which has been making the waves as a regional carrier with many peculiarities, including first class seats, added one more today, by achieving a 0% on time performance, on it’s launch date.
As was conveyed to the media a week ago, and published on their website, Air Costa was to have both launched and inaugurated its services today, by flying the Vijayawada-Bangalore sector. All other sectors have been mentioned as starting from 15th October, 2013.
Air Costa planned to inaugurate its regional air connectivity on the 14th of October, 2013, to coincide with the supposedly auspicious day of Dussehra. The usual 06:45IST departure and 07:45IST arrival was changed to a 10:30IST departure and a 11:30IST arrival to stay clear of a particular inauspicious time of the day.
But to the dismay of many spotters, who made their way to BIAL to catch the Embraer through their lens, it didn’t turn up. Bangalore briefing was contacted, and a spotter was told that there was no flight plan received for an “Air Costa flight 601”.
While start-up hiccups are understandable, calling for a press-meet and then changing plans without notification is operationally acceptable but image-damaging.
We do sincerely hope that this doesn’t reflect the future of an airline that had initially planned for turboprop Q400s and then switched to turbofan Embraer E-Jets (nothing wrong with a switch, as the E-jets opens up much longer routes, but reflects poor homework on the part of the airline), wants to offer low fares but doesn’t have the cabin of a low cost carrier (dual class cabin), publishes routes on its timetable, while the route map misses out those very routes, has been pushing the launch date far too many times, and promises the first flight only to revise that as well.
Sector Costs and Market Potential
How Air Costa is going to manage their costs is uncertain. The Embraer 170 on a 60 minute flight (Vijayawada-Bangalore) consumes, on average, approximately 900 liters of ATF. At the present ATF prices at Bengaluru, and 4% sales tax, this translates to INR 60,000. Including fuel, the operational cost is estimated at a very conservative INR 300,000 – 400,000, which will actually be much higher for a start-up airline. If we are to divide this by the 66 seats on board the airplane (60 economy + 6 first class), this translates to about INR 4,600 – 6,000 per seat, or INR 5,000 – 6,700 per seat neglecting the first class seats. Being regional, seldom will their aircraft fly with a 100% load factor, which further pushes up the cost per seat. It is further unlikely that there will be many takers for the expensive “Economy Plus” seats: the economy seats on an Embrarer are very comfortable, both in pitch and width, and upgrading to a first class seat on a 60-minute flight does not make much sense.
For a flight one month from today, Spicejet’s direct flight from Vijayawada to Bangalore is priced at INR 3,172, all-inclusive, per person. Air India, with an inconvenient stop, offers seats for 3,671 per person, and Jet Airways’ direct flight INR 5,187 per person. However, based on the fact that the Jet Airways’ 08:15 departure is the most convenient, there is a higher demand for that flight. If a person from Vijayawada wishes to wrap up business at Bangalore, in a day, he may pick Air Costa’s early morning 06:45 departure, reach Bangalore at 07:45, reach the heart of the city by 10:00am, wrap up business by 13:30, and pick the only convenient return flight at 16:40. But Air Costa will have to price economy at no less than INR 6,000 per economy seat, to break even at 90% economy-cabin load factor (54 seats), to prevent themselves from bleeding.
Air Costa’s Vijayawada-Bangalore economy all-inclusive fares start at INR 2,284 and progresses through 2,798, 3,323, 6,314 and upward based on demand, but still staying lower than the competition. How this pricing pattern covers operational costs, if ever, will be interesting to observe, as these are inaugural fares priced at INR 9, adding up to the above mentioned figures due to surcharges, fees and taxes.
Air Costa’s Bangalore-Vijayawada and Vijayawada-Bangalore may have the highest passenger loads among all carriers, simply because of the convenient timing, and pricing, if the fares continue to be priced the way they are.
It will be interesting to watch the growth of this regional airline, in the hands of an aviation first timer. You may notice a stark difference between the way Air Costa handles things and the way in which Air Asia India will manage their show.