MIAMI — Mitsubishi hopes to bring Japan in to the world of aircraft manufacturing, pinning its hopes on the MRJ program and expecting to launch a large regional jet for ANA by Spring 2017. That plan may be at risk, however, as the company announced earlier this month that it would delay the first flight of the test aircraft a few months to September or October 2015. Speaking to reporters at a press conference Nobuo Kishi, a VP at Mitsubishi Aircraft, suggested that the delay may prove helpful to the flight test plan rather than harmful.
We don’t see the change in the test flight as a delay, but as an improvement. We want to continue the test flights without interrupting them for modifications.
The reference to interruptions alludes to changes required in the aircraft which can either be implemented now, before first flight, or later. Choosing to do so later would speed up the first flight timeline but would also mean grounding one of the test aircraft later while it is retrofit. The delay in commencing flight testing does put significant pressure on the timeline for delivering operational and certified planes to ANA some 18 months later, but it is possible assuming everything goes well.
Beyond the flight test challenges there is also a weight issue which Mitsubishi is facing with the MRJ90 model. Regional operators in the USA, SkyWest and Trans States Holdings, represent 150 of the airframes on order. But the aircraft will be delivered too heavy to be flown as regional jets based on the pilot union contracts currently in place with the parent company carriers. The so-called “Scope Clause” prevents regional carriers from operating planes which exceed certain seat capacity or weight limits. And the MRJ90 currently does exceed those numbers.
Speaking at the ISTAT Americas conference in Phoenix last month a Mitsubishi executive suggested that the weight limit is an “artificial barrier” and that he expects the airlines will find a way to negotiate around it. Of course, he also acknowledges that there is a need for a Plan B and a Plan C, just in case.
These challenges of getting a new, larger regional jet in to service are not unique to Mitsubishi. Bombardier has seen its share of delays and hiccups along the way as it works to push its new C-Series model into service. And even with that flight test program well underway the entry into service details remain unclear at this time.