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Bombardier confirmed on June 5 that it is in talks with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries concerning its CRJ regional jet program.
According to sources quoted by The Air Current, the Canadian OEM is now “deep into exclusive negotiations with Mitsubishi” to divest itself of its last commercial aircraft program.
On April 16, Bombardier CEO Alain Bellemare told The Canadian Press that the continuation of the CRJ program depended on how many orders could be obtained. The backlog at the time extended only through the end of 2020.
“We’re assessing options as we speak, so we’ll see where it goes,” he said at the time.
The CRJ program – based on the Challenger 600 business jet – was originally acquired by Bombardier in 1986 when it bought Canadair.
The first 50-seat CRJ100 regional jet was delivered to launch customer Lufthansa CityLine in 1992, quickly realizing extremely high dispatch reliability and significant fuel savings. Bombardier was the sole manufacturer of the popular regional jet until 1996, when Embraer launched its 50-seat ERJ 145.
The Bombardier website says there are currently more than 1,900 CRJ aircraft in service with over 120 operators in 90 countries.
Both Bombardier and Mitsubishi cautioned that current talks may not result in a deal.
Bombardier’s statement indicated that before any agreement can be reached, further review and analysis by Bombardier management and approval by Bombardier’s board of directors will be required, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries must complete its own due diligence review and analysis.
The Air Current reported that an agreement could be announced as early as June 17, at the start of the Paris Air Show.
If concluded, the acquisition would see Japan’s Mitsubishi in direct competition with Embraer’s commercial business, which is currently being absorbed by Boeing.
Mitsubishi has been trying to launch its own clean-sheet regional jet, the Mitsubishi MRJ, but the program has incurred major delays and cost overruns. The company initially hoped its regional jet would be delivered to customers by 2013 but has had to delay delivery at least five times, according to the Japan Times. The delays have been attributed to changes in avionics and design, in part due to insufficient wing strength in one of the company’s previous designs.
In October 2018, Bombardier sued Mitsubishi over the alleged theft of trade secrets that went into the design of the MRJ, which pushed Mitsubishi’s delivery date back even further.
Most recently, the Japanese OEM announced it was changing the name of the aircraft to Space Jet.
If a deal between Mitsubishi and Bombardier is concluded for the CRJ program, it will mark the end of Bombardier’s commercial aircraft production. On June 3, the Canadian OEM finalized the sale of its Dash 8 line to Longview Aviation Capital, the parent company of Viking Air.
Last year, Bombardier sold a majority stake in its C Series commercial aircraft program to Europe’s Airbus SE, which rebranded it the Airbus A220.