In Conversation Transcribed: Mitsubishi SpaceJet with Isaac Alexander

John Walton: Hello, and welcome to Runway Girl Network In Conversation, a deep dive into aviation and the passenger experience. I’m RGN deputy editor John Walton, and today I’m in conversation with Isaac Alexander, a freelance aerospace writer out of Seattle, who you may know online as Jet City Star. Today, we’re talking about the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, né Mitsubishi Regional Jet, and which I’m almost sure one of us will refer to as the MRJ at some point in the next half hour! But first, thanks to our sponsor.

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Walton: Now, Isaac, welcome to In Conversation.

Isaac Alexander: Thank you, John. Happy to be here.

Walton: So, the Mitsubishi SpaceJet. It’s the new version of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, a new name for a slightly new aircraft. How long has this program been going on, Isaac, and what are some of the key things that have happened since its inception?

Alexander: Well, you could say… The program was kicked off in 2008 at the Farnborough Airshow of that year, and you could say it started even before that type of thing with two companies, in particular, Mitsubishi as well as Pratt & Whitney, because, in the times of 2005, Pratt & Whitney was almost out of the engine game, and they had to roll the dice in order to get back in a big way into it, because they pulled out of the 787 program as well as they didn’t get anything with the A350 program. So they came up with the PurePower engine, or the geared turbofan engine. Mitsubishi was the first customer client for that, and then later Bombardier picked it up for the C Series, and then thus Airbus picked it up as well.

Alexander: So you could say, in a way, that Mitsubishi has kicked off this recent run, if you will, of the entire aircraft industry here in the last decade or so for things. They kicked off the program in 2008. They subsequently have had delays, five major delays that have come from 2010, 2013, around 2015, and the last one was around 2017, when Mitsubishi finally hired somebody in the leadership position that formerly worked for an aircraft manufacturer, being Alex Bellamy. They did a complete audit of the program, and thus they found… One of the major things that they had found problems with the aircraft for the fifth time delay was that some of the safety systems… In aircraft, you have all the redundancies and stuff, so if one thing goes down, you have three backups. Well, unfortunately, some of the redundancies were all put together into the same compartment for things, and that was a major no-no for being able to be safely operated.

Alexander: So they reset the aircraft. Then the first flight of the aircraft was back in 2015 in Japan, and initially it was four aircraft that have been produced and then flown over here. I myself was able to see the first one arrive here in September at their test flight facility in Moses Lake, Washington, and then I was there to see the fourth one arrive in March of 2017 later. So, about an eight-month gap to get all the four jets here that have been testing since then to go for certification.

Alexander: Earlier this year, they finally got the arrangement right with the new safety wiring and strengthening and stuff with the fuselage so that the MRJ90, now called the M90 SpaceJet, can begin its FAA certification, so that it can finally, in the summer of next year, 2020, be delivered to ANA. And finally… Let’s see. This was 2008, ’10, so literally a 12-year odyssey to get a Regional Jet into service will finally come to pass.

Walton: Right. It has been an odyssey, and of course, that’s kind of been the point. I mean, I think it’s important to realize that Japan has, for many years, been a major sub-supplier to other aerospace companies, whether that’s building significant parts of the 777 and 787. It also operates… It has a number of sub-suppliers to the Airbus market. But what they haven’t had for many years is a modern passenger transport aircraft, and as we all know, creating a modern passenger transport aircraft is about the most complicated thing that humans have ever done. To get one that is as safe as it is, that can be produced in the numbers that they are, it’s an incredibly complex thing to do.

Walton: So Japan, being a… I have to explain the Japanese corporate society very quickly. There are concepts of zaibatsu, which are very large Japanese corporations, which are not entirely government directed, but sort of government directed. And there’s been a huge push to maximize Japan’s aviation industry. So all of this learning that they’ve had out of all of these programs, well, out of all of these problems with this particular program especially, has been in the aim of creating an aviation industry, an aircraft industry producing individual aircraft within Japan.

Walton: So yeah, I mean, that’s largely the reason why it’s late. Now, they’ve also had some problems around their marketing and their choice of size for this aircraft, haven’t they? So we originally had two aircraft, the MRJ70 and the MRJ90. Isaac, what did those look like when they were born?

Alexander: Looking at the pamphlets here that I found… We’ll go first with the MRJ90, was a 92 single-class configuration. And then the MRJ70 was a 78 single-class configuration. And if you wanted to have a two-class configuration, it went down to 69 for the MRJ70, and then for the MRJ90, I believe it went down to 78 for a two-class. And I forget what the three class is. I don’t have that here, that stuff. So it was very different from that standpoint, but from being inside the aircraft… I have not yet been in one of their mock-ups for it, but just going by the photos that I’ve seen, you can have a good six-foot or taller person standing there in the regional jet, not have to duck or anything.

Alexander: So it’s a 2-2 configuration going down. It looks very nice and spacious, but yeah, what they’ve had problems with is just the overall weight of the aircraft has been the main hiccup.

Walton: Right, exactly. And look, I’ve been one of those people who have been crawling over that mock-up ever since it… well, the first mock-up, and now we have the second mock-up. Ever since they started showing that at the airshows, I’ve been really impressed. I mean, the last one was getting on a bit in sort of look and feel and the whole general aesthetics, as you might expect from a program that has been as delayed as it has been. But the new one is great, these new Safran pivot bins, which are part of the ECOS family. I wrote a piece on RGN about that very recently, in fact.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: The new cabins are fantastic, and this 2-2 configuration is great. The big bins that disappear up into the ceiling. These are nice wide seats, so this sort of 18-inch wide seat. This is much more closer to your Embraer E-195, E-175 kind of experience than it is to Bombardier regional jets, or should we say now the Canadair Regional Jet, also owned by Mitsubishi?

Alexander: Five years ago, would you have thought that Bombardier would sell off three different kind of lines of aircraft to three different manufacturers? It’s just unreal. And then Mitsubishi just picking up the CRJ line this year. It is just unreal how much the industry has changed in that regard. Also, as we talk about the delay, it’s been 11 years now since the start of it, and I am really surprised, and kudos to Mitsubishi for being able to keep the supply chain to build the aircraft that they still have. I assume that Safran could have walked away from this program with some of the delays they’ve had, but they stuck with it. And from what you wrote about and took pictures of and experienced in Paris, it looks like a pretty dang good product that they finally have on the market.

Walton: Yeah, it really is. I mean, it’s kind of been this interesting coincidence in terms of being a sweet spot. You’ve got this… Safran is moving to this ECOS family of cabins, with this sort of new architecture pivot bin. It’s moving that outside of the larger narrow bodies where it was originally created, like the A320. So they’ve been showing stuff on the Embraer E-Jet family. They’re also the ones behind the Atmosphère cabin for Bombardier, even though the architecture is somewhat different because of the narrower… the narrow tube really.

Alexander: Right.

Walton: So that would also, of course, be now in the stable at Mitsubishi. What I found interesting is that even if the CRJ is solely an acquihire for staff and for customer relationships and also kind of to make a lawsuit go away… There was, of course, that whole thing with the slight controversy about whether or not the people who Mitsubishi had hired away from Bombardier had brought anything rather vital with them that perhaps they shouldn’t have done. But that, of course, just disappears at this point because they’ve bought the program instead.

Walton: To bring us back to this issue of weight, so we had… Obviously, for our non-US listeners who might not be familiar with the scope clause, that limits the number of passengers and the maximum take-off weight of aircraft that operated as express or connection carriers for the major airlines, so for example, American Eagle, Delta Connection, United Express, Horizon for Alaska, and so on. Those are very specific requirements, and the MRJ, very interestingly, didn’t hit that sweet spot with the MRJ70, nor indeed did it hit the 100-seat passenger/flight-attendant limit sweet spot for the rest of the world, where you can put a hundred people on an aircraft and that’s two flight attendants and you’re fine.

Walton: So now, of course, we have something that looks rather different, don’t we? We have the M70 and M90, which are a little interesting in terms of sizing. Isaac, can you walk us through that?

Alexander: Well, the major changes… There wasn’t too many external changes to the M90, which is what the first aircraft will be delivered to ANA and JAL later next year. I just want to say kind of a personal note of pride is the reason why it is so important for the deadline to be met next summer is because what world event is taking place next summer, John?

Walton: Would that be the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020?

Alexander: The company desperately wants that aircraft to fly over the opening or the closing ceremonies for that. It is very much a prideful thing they want to do. I talked to some of the Mitsubishi leadership here in Seattle for an event at the consulate… at their consulate general last month before the Paris Air Show, and yes, that is definitely in their thinking that they want to do that. And so I just want… They have their own clock, and they are going to make sure, come hell or high water, that they make that deadline for things.

Alexander: But getting back to the size of the aircraft changes, the most notable changes right now externally is to formerly the MRJ70, now the M100, is that they’re going to be adjusting the wing, and they’re going to be expanding by two feet the actual fuselage of the aircraft, and they’re going to be able to do that with… They just worked a deal with Triumph on the aerostructures part to be able to expand it and not have a weight penalty, so that they can get the 76… So now they can get, in the M100, they can get the 76 seats in a two-class configuration, which is an extremely important type of thing from a cost perspective in operating their aircraft.

Walton: And that, of course, is in the US market because of the scope clause. That’s why we’re aiming for this two-and-a-half class 76 with a few 1-2 business class seats… well, domestic first-class seats up front, then a bit of extra leg room, then regular economy down in the back.

Alexander: Because, John, is the rough statistic, is that… The regional jet market globally, is it 60 or 70% is in North America, and then the rest of the world only makes up 30 to 40%? Is that rough? Am I off on that?

Walton: I’ve heard something similar. There’s something of a game of playing with a risk map to make that work. But yeah, no, I could see that it… Look, it’s certainly, at this point, the most important market. The question is, of course, do we have enough new generation 100-seaters? That’s where the sweet spot is for the rest of the world. Or has the production market been so focused on meeting the existing largely American demand that it’s ignored the rest of the world’s demand, right?

Alexander: Right.

Walton: It’s this kind of if-you-build-it-they-will-come thing, which Boeing is also playing out with the NMA right now. Yeah?

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: No one’s entirely sure how big the market stimulus will be from having an aircraft that can do this stuff.

Alexander: Yeah, it’s different, changing times. Then plus you have technology, as we both know, has marched on. Can battery technology improve enough so that you can have an electric-powered regional jet? Airbus and some of the other startup companies have done smaller aircraft. We’re talking the 10-seater to… Let’s just say 10 to 30 seats is kind of the market that they’re testing that battery technology right now. Or can we do a hybrid, which Rolls-Royce ended up at the Paris Air Show, bought Siemens’ electric things. Can we scale that up to about the 100-seat aircraft market? Can that work for that successfully? And this decade, we’ll find out type of thing if that can go. But Mitsubishi has gone with the GTF engine from Pratt & Whitney so far, and that has worked well for them.

Walton: Yeah. Look, I think there’s certainly a very strong market niche that Mitsubishi is currently dominating, right, which is this sub-100 up to a 100-seater, where Embraer really doesn’t have an E2 generation answer to this problem, right, because they’re not making an E-170 E2. The E-175 E2 is out of weight in terms of the scope clause, and the larger two are obviously too big. This is a fascinating thing.

Walton: Now, of course, the way that the M100, which is the new version of the small American-sized regional jet, the new MRJ70, is a little bit bigger, but crucially, to make the weight numbers work, they can’t fill up the gas tank.

Alexander: Correct.

Walton: Right?

Alexander: Yep.

Walton: That inherently reduces the range in conjunction with the weight. Now, that I find really interesting because what that inherently means is that if, in a wider pilots’ discussion… What Mitsubishi was hoping for, for quite some time, was that there would be a change in the scope clauses, but if in some wider pilots’ discussion, one or more airlines is able to say, “Well, actually, our maximum take-off weight, excluding fuel, say,” if that’s what they give, then suddenly you can have these planes flying a lot longer routes, because the range of these aircraft is actually quite impressive.

Alexander: Yes, it is.

Walton: What’s the official maximum range that we’re looking at on the M100 and M90? Do you have that at hand?

Alexander: No, I don’t. But I remember I looked at a map… That’s what I’m trying to get right now. There was a map showing like a center… appointing Denver as kind of the center and big circles showing… And you could fly to Mexico City, as far north as almost to British Columbia… or the Northern… almost to the Yukon. It can turn into a really good regional… You’d almost, in a sense, have a coast-to-coast in North America range aircraft…

Walton: Right.

Alexander: … with what they’re doing.

Walton: And that’s the really interesting thing, because that’s one of the maps I’m thinking of as well. Now that map, if memory serves, is the maximum take-off weight constrained range, which is something like 1600 or 1700 nautical miles, if memory serves. Don’t quote me on that. But the actual range of the aircraft is… I want to say it’s something… You could almost do coast to coast US from either coast, right?

Alexander: Yep.

Walton: Not entirely, but almost. And that starts getting really interesting. Well, look, if you’re a new startup airline, obviously that’s relevant. But if you’re someone like American or Delta or even Alaska, right? Alaska is undergoing a number of changes right now. If Alaska can renegotiate its discussions around the scope clause that they have… They’re obviously the smallest, so potentially they have the most wiggle room, as it were. They could do any number of really interesting things around, well, okay, how much further can we reach for a long, thin market from our West Coast operations, right? What does that change in terms of Alaska being able to fly out of more of the southern Californian small airports, the small airports that love quiet planes, small planes, have lots of Real-Housewives-of-very-rich-county type fliers, who are a lot of the people that the airlines really want to attract?

Walton: There’s all sorts of interesting stuff that can come out of the decisions about the way that Mitsubishi has done this, and I find it fascinating.

Alexander: Yeah, because… Yeah, I’m looking at the other map. I found the Denver map, and then I’m looking at the Paris map, and you can fly almost to… You can fly to the east coast of Greenland and to the south part of Libya from that standpoint, from this map. And you can go to the Ukraine. You can almost go to the… It looks like you can almost fly to Georgia.

Walton: Yeah. Is that the M100?

Alexander: This is the MRJ90 and the MRJ70 map I’m looking at. These are the older maps from a couple years ago.

Walton: Yeah, yeah. Because the elephant in the room, and a very small, very cute elephant, but it is a large elephant, right? The M90 is the same as the old MRJ90.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: The M100 is slightly bigger than the MRJ70, but still smaller than the M90.

Alexander: Correct.

Walton: Obviously, what they’re looking at next, and indeed they were discussing it at Paris, is there a 100-seater coming.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: Which makes all the sense in the world. If you’re going to have this new geared turbofan engine, you, of course, want to put it on a slightly larger aircraft, just because of the efficiencies of the … of the weight and scale efficiencies, right?

Alexander: Correct.

Walton: And so that starts getting very, very interesting. It seems to me that part of the commercial that Mitsubishi has to do at this point is to say that anyone who’s ordered either an MRJ70, an MRJ90, which would you like? Would you like M100s, North American market, or who knows? I may be wrong, and there may be a market somewhere in the world that is very interested in the 75-seater. That has not generally been the case. If you’re going to fly to anywhere else in the world, you’re probably going to be flying a turboprop, but it may well be the case, right? I would not rule it out. But I think-

Alexander: There’ll be operating efficiencies — the MRJ is competing with ATR and de Havilland now for that kind of sized market, if you will.

Walton: Yeah. As an aside, can I just say how much I love that we have de Havilland back? It’s like some sort of… something that’s come to life out of a history book.

Alexander: Yeah, I’m totally with you on the de Havilland part. Two months ago, I got to go up to Viking Air, the company that acquired, in a sense, acquired the de Havilland company. Longview Aviation Capital is the official name. But when they bought that back from Bombardier, it’s just like, yes, we got something with a legacy back, from that air… You know, Boeing celebrated its centennial. This year, it was Embraer and Airbus celebrated its centennial. But de Havilland is an over 100-year-old name, I believe, as well. Not de Havilland Canada. I believe it was founded in 1928, if I’m not mistaken.

Walton: Yeah. But de Havilland, I mean, we go back to the first jet aircraft.

Alexander: Oh, absolutely.

Walton: The first jet passenger aircraft. I mean, and this is incredible stuff. And all the way… Some of the de Havilland legacy in the UK is now obviously it’s a big part of Airbus. So yeah, absolutely fascinating. Fascinating historical stuff. But-

Alexander: And something else connected with de Havilland is that Mitsubishi Heavy used to do fuselages and wings for Bombardier when they bought them. And then it was in 2008 when they transferred the production of that to an AVIC subsidiary called Shenyang to do that, and then MHI Canada was the one doing those. And now they just… MHI Canada now just does the… They do work on the Challenger business jet as well as the Global business jet, various parts of that.

Walton: Well, for now. I mean, it’ll be real interesting to see how Bombardier’s business jet family, which of course has a lot of commonality with the CRJ family, how that relationship with Mitsubishi changes. Do they become best of buddies now that they have a shared interest there? That’ll be fascinating to see.

Alexander: Well, they did have a very shared… When they launched the Global, MHI Canada was the tier-one supplier, partner and stuff, if you will, because they didn’t want to have all the risk. Bombardier didn’t want the sole risk, so Mitsubishi stepped in and was the big tier-one supplier for that program, and it’s been a big success, you could say. The whole Global program has been for Bombardier.

Walton: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But back to our sheep, as we say in France, here we have the M90, which is going to be produced as… I suspect what it will end up being is JAL and ANA will take what they’ve ordered, and that will be fine, right? That’s a useful size in between their turboprop operations, between their small regional jet operations… well, their small to medium regional jet operations, and their narrow-body operations, their 737 and A320 ops. Those will fit into their fleets somewhere, and there is a much wider political obligation for them to take these aircraft, right?

Alexander: Correct.

Walton: So I think that those will be delivered. It would very much surprise me, Isaac, if any other M90 was delivered.

Alexander: Now, in North America, I would agree. I’d completely agree with you. I just don’t see the MRJ90, or excuse me, M90, now SpaceJet, to be sold outside in North America. However, in other world markets, I could see it working. But the other thing too with this whole kind of reset and rebranding that Mitsubishi has had, since most of the North American market is probably going to be purchasing the M100, is that Mitsubishi is exploring right now setting up a second final assembly line here in North America, and specifically they have hinted that it will be in the United States. People had said when they bought the CRJ line that they would buy the line there and convert it. That’s not going to happen.

Alexander: Mirabel and Montreal, the Quebec area and stuff, there’s just going to be a support network. And then you have MHI Canada that will probably be heavily involved in providing parts for the M100 once a new factory location can be found here in the United States. Two months ago, Mitsubishi Aircraft set up a new corporate headquarters here in Renton, just literally within a half a mile from Boeing Commercial Aircraft’s headquarters. So in a sense now, Renton now is like the new Toulouse in the fact that Toulouse has… It’s not the perfect comparison because Airbus is a 50% investor in ATR. However, you have two independent aircraft manufacturers there in Toulouse, and now we have the same in Renton, Washington, with two aircraft manufacturers based there. So we’ll see where in the United States the M100 is actually, a second line and stuff, where it is built.

Walton: Yeah. That’ll be really interesting. I mean, obviously, there’s a large amount of aerospace expertise within the Washington, particularly the Seattle, area. But Boeing has been moving away from that for quite some time on the basis of cost, not always hugely successfully in terms of quality, of course. But I could certainly see questions being asked about whether or not it makes sense to put it away from the West Coast. That said, if you’re going to ship sub-assemblies from Japan, you probably want to locate it somewhere on the West Coast. So I could see the Los Angeles area. I think there is still enough space there from the old Lockheed, from the old Douglas. And there’s a lot of that sort of tier-one supplier activity down in and around that LAX area.

Walton: I could see something… I could see your Burbank, your Palmdale, one of those areas. Maybe even a little bit inland, right? I could see that being an option. But yeah, it’s fascinating to think of. If you’re Mitsubishi, where do you build in the US if you want to be in the US?

Alexander: And right now, in the next decade, kind of a bigger-picture type of thing, there is now potentially four independent aircraft final assembly lines in play now for states in the United States to go for. The big one, of course, everybody wants to get is the Boeing new middle aircraft, mid-market aircraft. That’s the big one everyone’s trying to get. Then Mitsubishi now and what it’s doing with the M100. The other two are something that Europe has stepped away from, is Aerion and Boom Technology, both with their SSTs. They both want to get their final assembly lines in operation by the end of the decade. So there’s… You know.


Walton: Well, that’s next year, isn’t it?

Alexander: The next decade. Yeah, 2030 is what I mean, not 2020. Yeah.

Walton: Yeah. It’s all right. This never fails to make me laugh. I’m like, oh, yeah, next decade. Oh, wait, that’s… Yeah, what do we mean? Do we mean the actual next… Yeah. Look, this supersonic thing for me is come back and talk to me when you have an engine, right?

Alexander: Yes. But that’s specifically with the one manufacturer being Boom, yes.

Walton: Right, yeah, yeah. But what I find real interesting about this is, of course, all these states vying will, of course, have to give these massive subsidies out. I mean, what was that… There was a figure, an absolutely astounding figure on the Washington state subsidies alone that Boeing received for one single program.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: Which back we go to the WTO, which will be fascinating. So I will be very interested to see, and it will be a harbinger of where Mitsubishi sees the market, but whether or not they do indeed operate a final assembly line in the United States.

Alexander: I think they will because they want to operate on the US dollar. And it’s also-

Walton: Is there that much currency fluctuation between the dollar and the yen?

Alexander: I think it’s from a stable market, that that’s what they want. And as much as most of their suppliers being in the United States and stuff as well. They just want that stability.

Walton: Yeah. Yeah, I can see the argument, right? But at the same time, I can also see that actually there is a lot of space at the old Nagoya Airport, right? There’s a lot of space that’s been cleared near that—

Alexander: The other thing too, the great thing or kind of the odd thing you could say about Mitsubishi is why didn’t Mitsubishi follow the example of Honda? And you’re going, Honda Jet set up their whole aircraft… Honda Aircraft is based out of North Carolina, almost a complete section. I mean, they source supplies and stuff from Japan, but they set up the whole thing. What if Mitsubishi didn’t set up a final assembly line in Nagoya, and instead set it up over here somewhere in the United States? Would it still be considered Japanese?

Walton: No, I don’t think it would.

Alexander: Yeah, okay.

Walton: I think a lot of the purpose of the program, from a sort of Japan Inc perspective, is to be able to produce commercial aircraft in Japan, which is why I’m a little bit bearish on there being a final assembly line elsewhere, especially since Japan is outside this sort of US-plus-Canada/US-plus-EU/all-three-of-them fight about aircraft subsidies at the moment.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: I also think politically Japan is exceedingly good at keeping those good relations going. I mean-

Alexander: Very good.

Walton: Whatever we might think of the current set of people in the White House, I think it has to be said that Shinzo Abe, the Japanese leader…

Alexander: Minister.

Walton: … has probably done the best at managing the chaos, right?

Alexander: Yep.

Walton: So I think that certainly there’s less pressure than there would be for a Bombardier or for an Airbus to produce in the US, and I think there’s a lot of domestic pressure for them to build this thing in Japan. Now, that said, if demand goes through the roof, they will at least build it somewhere, right? Do they want to put all of their eggs in a Nagoya basket? Just from a business-continuity perspective, given that Japan has earthquakes and other natural disasters, it would be a good idea to spread that out.

Alexander: This is how the Dreamliner thing was spread out, because it was the same thing when that was… they opened up in South Carolina.

Walton: Yeah, yeah. Well, partly that, but partly price, right?

Alexander: Yes, absolutely.

Walton: If you undercut your union labor, yeah, that makes good price sense, even if it makes terrible sense in terms of quality and them not leaving bits of planes inside other planes.

Alexander: Yep. Well, unfortunately, Paine Field has had that same thing with the tankers finding FOD being… their military tankers being delivered and such, so it’s not… That’s a huge slap in the face of the unions up here, and they only have themselves as well as the leadership at Boeing Defense, they have only themselves to blame for that one.

Walton: Right, no, absolutely. But yeah, so it’s fascinating to think about how this program will evolve, right? I think that the smart money is on there being this sort of 100-seater M200 kind of aircraft. One of my favorite hypotheticals, and this is what the 3-digit aircraft code is going to be, given that M90 and M10 are both already taken…

Alexander: Yeah, by McDonnell Douglas, right?

Walton: … by the MD90 and then the MD10, which is the re-flight-decked cargo version of the DC-10. So I don’t know what they’re going to call this thing in terms of those all-important three letters and numbers. But it’ll be interesting to see the… Yes. MS-9, MS-1? I don’t know. It’ll be fascinating to see.

Alexander: Well, if you still go with the MS, then you’re confusing with the Russians with the MS-21.

Walton: Yep, yep. And you can’t do SJ, because then you start getting included in with the Sukhoi Superjet.

Alexander: Correct.

Walton: Yep, yep. Who knows? Who knows?

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: But look, the future for this jet, to me, looks incredibly bright, right? They seem to have gotten the program turned around and aimed in the right direction.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: At that point, I think the strength of Japanese industry is just manufacturing the damn things, right?

Alexander: Yeah. And I will say that I’m really glad that they actually did do the rebrand. Now some people will say, “It’s space. What the heck does it have to do with space 60 miles above the Earth?” And obviously, the rebrand is about space inside the aircraft, not space above us.

Walton: Right, yeah.

Alexander: But for me, keeping track of the program from a news perspective, the SpaceJet name has been fantastic. It’s so much easier to find news now using the various search engines, or whatever type of thing, to find news articles and keep track of the program and stuff with this unique name, versus you could say Mr. J, you know, MRJ.

Walton: Right, yeah.

Alexander: That’s the problem I’ve had keeping track of what’s going on in Japan from a language perspective, and it’s so much easier now with the new rebranding.

Walton: Well, exactly. And also, it does what it says on the tin, right? It is a spacious jet.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: And it puts some clear, blue branding water between the old tiny tube regional jets, the little Embraers and the CRJs.

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: If one of your key competition is a turboprop that is known for not having space, I would absolutely call the other thing the thing that is not that thing. Right?

Alexander: Yes.

Walton: And I think that, look, between the… They’re ready for industrialization. They’ve got the suppliers lined up. They’ve got a good blend of suppliers, right? They’ve not put all their eggs in one basket.

Alexander: Yeah, that’s what I was worried about with Safron leaving the… or Zodiac previously had signed up for the interiors, and if it gets Collins, that’s… With UTC now merging with Raytheon, I mean, Mitsubishi is really kind of on the small side. From a price perspective on a supply network, they’re on the weak end right now, just because they don’t have the finances to push back.

Walton: Well, if you have to prioritize one of your customers and one of them is Airbus or Boeing and the other one is Mitsubishi, which one are you going to prioritize?

Alexander: Yep.

Walton: I know I bang the drum about suppliers all the time, and we have some really interesting stuff moving around Runway Girl Network on our RGN Premium side around this as well. But yeah, look, MRJ has done very well to spread this risk. I mean, this new cabin is a step change. It’s amazing, just the look and the feel. They’re in the market for new seats as well, which will be great. That will increase the amount of personal space, because the seats that they have been showing have been relatively old existing seats, which they want to still be able to offer that, of course, because there will be lots of airlines who appreciate the fact that these are not new seat technologies that they have to figure out.

Walton: But yeah, they’re going out on seats and saying, “What can we do inside this pleasantly large tube to make a really interesting passenger experience?”

Alexander: And to go back to that and stuff with the seatings, the seats, I believe, were… Heath Com was the original company, and they’re based up here in Bellingham, Washington. Then they got bought by Zodiac. So Zodiac inherited the interior program and stuff from that. Going back to the factory thing I said about setting up a factory, it might not be an actual final assembly line, too, that they build here, but they could do what Boeing has done in Shanghai, is that they could still build the planes in Nagoya and then fly them over here to, let’s just say, to Washington, for example, to a completion center. And they do the final livery, painting, and the interiors here, and then it’s shipped out to a customer. Mitsubishi has that option as well.

Walton: Right, and that’s always been the Airbus model for some of their larger aircraft or anything that needs a specialization, right? Things fly green up to Hamburg, get outfitted with the complex cabins up there, and then off they go. So yeah, it’s very much a watch-this space, and it’s a fascinating space to be watched, isn’t it?

Alexander: Absolutely.

Walton: Well, let’s leave today’s conversation there. Listeners, we certainly hope you enjoyed it, and we’re always keen to find out what you think. Please feel free to email me at with any suggestions. Now, thanks to our guest, Isaac Alexander. Isaac, tell us where we can continue the conversation with you online?

Alexander: You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram or LinkedIn at the moniker jetcitystar.

Walton: Fabulous. And as ever, you can find me on Twitter @thatjohn, and everything from RGN on Twitter @RunwayGirl and at If you’re enjoying these conversations, please leave a rating and a review wherever you get your podcasts, and thanks for listening.