Mitsubishi Aircraft Delays MRJ For a Third Time

 - August 22, 2013, 10:47 AM
A manufacturing prototype of an MRJ vertical tail section rests in a jig in Nagoya as Mitsubishi prepared for final assembly of the first flying test article. (Photo: Mitsubishi Aircraft)

Mitsubishi Aircraft suffered another credibility hit on Wednesday, as the company announced the third major delay to the MRJ regional jet program. The latest disruption comes only two months after Mitsubishi executives reported at the Paris Air Show smooth development progress and an unobstructed sightline toward first flight by the end of this year.

The Japanese airframer now expects first flight to occur in the second quarter of 2015 and delivery of the first production example two years later. Previous schedules called for first delivery to launch customer All Nippon Airways between the summer of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016.

In a somewhat unclear statement, Mitsubishi explained that design and certification has taken more resources than previously expected, which, in turn, affected component deliveries and aircraft fabrication. The new schedules take into account the “fulfillment of respective safety certification standards.”

The company said it has started assembly of the first test airframes in preparation for ground and flight tests.

Speaking with AIN in Paris, Mitsubishi Aircraft director of marketing Yugo Fukuhara detailed the flight-test plan, which calls for some 2,500 flight hours over the course of close to two years. He said the first aircraft, MSN10001, will test basic flight characteristics, possible expansion of the altitude and airspeed envelopes, major systems and runway performance, including hot and high analysis at a still undetermined location in the U.S.

The second airplane, MSN9001, would serve as a ground test airplane and assess static strength. The company plans to use the third airplane and second flight-test example, MSN10002, for general flight performance tests; the fourth, MSN10003, would prove detailed flight characteristics and test avionics; the fifth, MSN10004, would perform systems and interior tests, natural icing, extreme temperature tests and community noise tests, again at undetermined locations in the U.S. Finally, MSN10005 would test autopilot performance and flight characteristics with simulated ice shapes.

The latest delay marks the third major disruption to the program schedule since Mitsubishi launched the program in 2007. The first happened in 2009, when the company moved its first flight target from late 2011 to the second quarter of 2012 to accommodate changes to the design of the cabin and the wing box. More recently, in April 2012, the program suffered a setback of roughly a year-and-a-half following Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ failure to properly document engineering and production processes.

That rather abrupt interruption came at the behest of the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB), which, in concert with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), carries responsibility for issuing type and production certification for the airplane.

Since the JCAB intervened, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has had to remanufacture virtually all the parts for the first prototype.