SEATTLE — Japan’s Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation on Monday celebrated the opening of its Seattle Engineering Center (SEC), which will support the forthcoming Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). The facility, run in partnership with AeroTEC, will add an additional 150 jobs to the aerospace industry in the Puget Sound. Fifty of these jobs will be brought over from Japan, while the remaining 100 will be sourced locally.
The Engineering Center currently houses 52 employees, so with nearly 100 spaces to fill, there is a lot of growth yet to be done. At a press briefing prior to Monday’s opening ceremony, Nobuo Kishi, Senior Executive Vice President, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation told members of the media, “I am very happy and very glad that we have made a big milestone with the opening of SEC. Here we co-work with AeroTEC, Mr Lee [Lee Human, President of AeroTEC] to combine engineering between the US and Japan.”
Following the media briefing, an opening ceremony was held at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, where Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto acknowledged the “many difficulties” throughout the development of the MRJ, but also cited the milestones of the engine power-up (October 2014) and taxi tests (June 2015) as signs that progress is being made. Washington State Governor Jay Robert Inslee said, “Washington is honored to play a supporting role in the development of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet. With more than 100 years of history designing and building the greatest commercial airplanes in the world, Washington is the global leader in aerospace. We are thankful to the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation for its investment in our state, and are proud of the assistance we can provide in bringing this important aircraft to the worldwide market.”
Mitsubishi says the MRJ is designed to provide mainline jet comfort, with 4-abreast seating, large overhead bins, and nearly seven feet of head clearance when walking down the cabin aisle. The jet will be powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1200G geared turbofan engines. On the flight deck, pilots will receive information via four 15-inch Rockwell Collins ProLine Fusion LCD displays. In the cabin, Zodiac Aerospace will provide slimline seats, galleys and lavatories.
In comparison to its competitors, Mitsubishi says the MRJ noise area will be reduced by 40% versus the Embraer 190, with a 20% lower carbon footprint than the E-190. To date, the MRJ has 407 orders, with 223 of those being firm orders. 170 of those firm orders belong to U.S. based airlines, Sky West (100), Trans States Holdings (50), and Eastern (20). The MRJ90 launch customer will be Japan’s ANA, who has 15 firm orders plus 10 options. Although the majority of MRJ orders lie in the United States, one big obstacle to overcome will be the scope clauses as defined by the airline pilot unions, which limit the weight of the aircraft that certain labor groups within airlines or their regional subcontractors can fly. As it currently stands, the MRJ is too heavy to be flown as a “Regional Jet” though Mitsubishi expressed confidence that the weight clauses can be amended as has happened in the past.
Mitsubishi is building seven test aircraft – five of which will be used for flight testing, while the remaining two will be used for static strength and fatigue strength testing. All seven aircraft are expected to be completed by Q3 of this year. The inaugural flight of the MRJ is expected to take place this September or October in Nagoya, Japan, with additional flight testing taking place at Moses Lake, Washington by the second quarter of 2016.
Four of the five flight test aircraft are slated to be doing their flight tests in the United States. The Moses Lake, Washington facility will house an expected 200 employees, plus 65,000 square feet of hangar space. Its long runways are suitable for flight testing, and have been used by Boeing for both the 787 and 747-8 programs. Aside from Moses Lake, specialized flight testing will be carried out in Roswell, New Mexico (Special Runway Testing), Gunnison, Colorado (High Altitude takeoffs and landings), and the McKinley Climactic Laboratory in Florida (Extreme Weather Environment).
Mitsubishi says the purpose of engineering and flight testing in the U.S. is to capitalize on the knowledge and skills of the U.S. design, testing and certification engineers. In addition, the weather in Washington will be more advantageous to allow increased flight test frequencies.
The first MRJ delivery to ANA is still targeted for the second quarter of 2017. Although the MRJ order book has remained flat since JAL’s firm order for 32 planes in January, Mitsubishi remains optimistic that new orders will come once the planes begin their test flights within the next weeks.