PARIS — Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation has brought its MRJ jet to Le Bourget in its first international debut, in a move seen to restore confidence in the program, marred by five delays that have pushed the entry in service of the regional jet six years beyond its expected date in 2014.
Last January, Mitsubishi announced a two-year delay of the first delivery of the 88-seat MRJ90 to the second quarter of 2020, with All Nippon Airways as the launch customer.
The extra time, as explained by the airframer, is needed to relocate components in the electronics bay of the aircraft and re-route the wiring thereof.
To overcome the issue, Mitsubishi will partner with Latécoere Interconnection systems for the design and manufacture of the electrical wire systems, currently done by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The impact of the redesign is not only reflected in the schedule. Now, Mitsubishi will require up to two additional aircraft for its flight test campaign to achieve certification. So far, the four prototypes have logged 660 flight hours, both in its home base in Nagoya and Moses Lake, United States.
To date, the aircraft has completed structural tests, including flutter tests, natural icing, hot and cold weather tests and ground tests, all of them with positive results.
The reason behind the decision to move the flight test campaign to the United States is due to Mitsubishi’s lack of experience in the certification of an aircraft. The MRJ is the first commercial aircraft to be built in Japan in over 50 years, since the launch of the YS-11 turboprop in the mid-1960s.
Showing confidence in an unstable market
During a press presentation today at Le Bourget, Mitsubishi assured that the regional jet segment has a robust growth. The airframer forecasts a demand for over 5,000 aircraft in the next 20 years, with North America leading the market share with 37% of the total demand, equivalent to over 1,900 aircraft.
Perhaps the biggest challenge lying ahead is related to the scope clause in the United States. The clause is a provision that restricts the weight, capacity or number of aircraft operated by airlines for major carriers, and that limits the ability of plane makers to sell aircraft in the USA, particularly Embraer, Bombardier, and Mitsubishi.
In the case of Mitsubishi, the scope clause represents a risk, as about 75% of the existing firm orders for the MRJ90 belong to US-based customers. Skywest (100), Trans States (50), Eastern Air Lines (20) and Aerolease (10). According to Mitsubishi, the decision to amend the clause is set to take place during 2019.
A solution proposed by Mitsubishi for the US Market is to offer the 78-seat MRJ70, which alike the Embraer E170/E175, is below the 86,000 lb of Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW) limit, but so far, the smallest member of the MRJ family has been unable to obtain a single order.
With 427 orders and commitments, the MRJ is now in Paris trying to lure potential customers in a highly competitive market dominated by Embraer and Bombardier. The delays in the development program have taken its toll on the credibility of Mitsubishi.
The steady progress of the program during this year seems to restore, at least for now, the confidence in Mitsubishi. However, the scope constraints at its largest market and the volatile and ever-changing environment are now the strongest headwinds ahead.