Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.’s (MITAC) Paris Air Show unveiling of a new cabin for its SpaceJet regional jet (RJ) family has sparked interest from airline customers, giving executives confidence that its surprising initial commitment for 15 M100s during the show is the first of a series of deals for the revamped, US scope-compliant variant.

“We didn’t plan on making any announcements with regard to sales, but after a couple of days of sharing [the new cabin], the interest has gone exponential,” MITAC chief development officer Alex Bellamy told ATW during an interview at Le Bourget. “So, somebody moved quickly.” 

MITSU has “several major campaigns that we’re working on in the US and several major campaigns we're working on in Europe,” Bellamy added. “We think there’s plenty more to come.”

The deal announced at the show was an MOU from an unidentified North American carrier. It clears the way for “formal negotiations” to begin for a firm order that would see deliveries begin in 2024, when the M100 is expected to enter service. Its sister aircraft, the larger M90, is on pace to be certified by Japanese regulators and enter service with launch customer All Nippon Airways next year.

MITAC used Paris to unveil the redesigned M100, which will seat 76 passengers in a two-class cabin and have room for a premium economy section. Its maximum takeoff weight will be at or under the 86,000 lb. limit that governs US regional-airline scope clauses, thanks in part to engineering work underway at MITAC partner Triumph Group.

MITAC changed the M100 by modifying its MRJ70 design, which was developed assuming scope clauses would change. It was designed to seat 76 passengers in a single class or 69 in two classes. US mainline carriers want regional aircraft cabins to be as close as possible to their mainline products while maximizing capacity, meaning 76 seats and a first class are de facto musts for large RJs.

Bombardier’s CRJ700 is scope complaint, but it will not be produced after 2020. Among Embraer’s offerings—only the legacy E170 series, which continues to be produced alongside the modernized E2 family—is scope compliant. 

Transforming the MRJ70 into a two-class, scope-compliant M100 required adding 2 ft. to the fuselage and redesigning the entire above-wing fuselage interior area without adding any weight. Space was taken from the rear cargo hold, and a Safran-designed cabin interior with a pivoting, concave overhead bin panel allows each passenger to place a roller bag overhead. The new interior—combined with a fuselage design that does not use below-deck cargo storage and positions the cabin floor low in the tube as a result—maximizes available space for passengers, Bellamy explained. Hence, emphasis on “space” in the new SpaceJet brand name.

Changes to the M100 also include modifying the wings, which shortens the span by about 4 ft, to just more than 91 ft. Besides helping reduce structural weight, Bellamy says the change makes the aircraft more compatible with current RJ gate facilities, as well as compliant with a 95-ft. wingspan maximum in place at Colorado’s Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, a popular tourist destination. 

The airport’s configuration, including the separation between its single runway and taxiway, requires special, FAA-approved restrictions. The M100 will be one of the few regional aircraft with the wingspan and performance characteristics that will be able to operate into Aspen. 

The only other RJ in production that can is the CRJ700, which—thanks to a deal announced June 25—will both become part of MITAC family and will see production end in 2020. MITAC parent Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is purchasing the CRJ program and shutting down production. The move gives MITAC direct access to CRJ customers that may need to replace aging airframes in the next decade or want to modernize their fleets with a newer design.

Sean Broderick, sean.broderick@aviationweek.com