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Mitsubishi Regional Jet wins first order from leasing company

Mitsubishi Aircraft's Hiromichi Morimoto, left, and Aerolease's Jep Thornton, center, pose with a model of the MRJ at the announcement of their deal in Singapore on Feb. 16.

SINGAPORE -- Japan's Mitsubishi Aircraft has received the first order from an aircraft leasing company for the regional jet it is developing, a culmination of steady and diligent marketing efforts.

     The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries unit announced Tuesday that it has signed a basic agreement with U.S.-based Aerolease Aviation for delivery of up to 20 Mitsubishi Regional Jets, including 10 firm orders. An official contract is expected to be signed as early as next month. Production is set to begin this year and deliveries are slated to commence in 2018.

     Development of the aircraft went into full swing in 2008, but has been plagued by delays due to such factors as changes in the design, manufacturing process and parts. The initial test flight was postponed five times.

     The MRJ finally took its maiden flight last November, but Mitsubishi Aircraft announced the following month that the first delivery to ANA Holdings will be pushed back by around a year. Although more than 400 units have been ordered so far, no orders had been placed since August 2014 partly due to these delays.

     "We recognize the significantly important role which aircraft lessors have been playing in the aviation industry," Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto said Tuesday at the site of the Singapore Airshow. "We firmly believe that the asset value of the MRJ has been recognized in the aircraft finance market."

     "The accumulated experiences in aircraft manufacturing and strong financial background of the Mitsubishi group are of great value to us," said Jep Thornton, a partner at Aerolease Aviation.

     An order from a leasing company is a special achievement for the MRJ program, given that some 40% of commercial aircraft in service around the world are owned by lessors. The figure is projected to grow to around 50% by 2020, according to MC Aviation Partners, leasing subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp.

     Mitsubishi Aircraft officials had been pitching the asset value of the MRJ to aircraft lessors based in New York and Ireland. The seal of approval given by Thornton, an aviation expert who has served as president of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading, is seen giving the MRJ program a boost.

     "We will take the offensive in the leasing industry," Morimoto said.

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