Regional operator Mesa Airlines has agreed to begin negotiations on the purchase of up to 100 of Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet M100 aircraft.

Mesa operates flights under the United Express and American Eagle brands.

The memorandum of understanding targets 50 firm orders with an option to purchase an additional 50 aircraft. Deliveries would begin in 2024.

The potential purchase agreement follows the unveiling plans of the M100 at the Paris Air Show in June. The aircraft is to be the smaller of the two SpaceJet variants, seating 76 passengers in a standard three-class configuration. 

In developing the M100, Mitsubishi is targeting the U.S. regional market, where the so-called scope agreements that pilot unions and airlines have negotiated cap regional jets at 76 seats. Scope clauses limit the flying that airlines can outsource to regional carriers, where pilot pay is much lower. 

Mitsubishi is emerging as the primary competitor to Embraer in the regional jet market. Embrarer is in the process of merging with Boeing, and Mitsubishi had entered into an agreement to purchase Bombardier's regional jet division. 

Mitsubishi expects to make the first deliveries of the SpaceJet M90 variant in 2020. Mitsubishi has taken 100 firm orders from regional operator SkyWest and 50 from regional Trans State Holdings, parent of U.S. regional operators Compass, GoJet and Trans States. 

The M90, which seats 88 in its standard configuration, was marketed as the MRJ90 from 2008 until June, when Mitsubishi rebranded it as SpaceJet. 

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