A rollout ceremony held Saturday in Nagoya, Japan, for the Mitsubishi MRJ regional jet marked a symbolic end of a 50-year wait for a new Japanese airliner to take shape. Not since the NAMC YS-11 turboprop flew for the first time in 1962 has a Japanese effort to break into the commercial airplane market reached such a state of progress. Under development for some seven years, the MRJ finally looks like an airplane capable of flying—and ultimately delivering the 20-percent fuel efficiency improvement over current designs Mitsubishi Aircraft advertises.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
Two manufacturers shared the spoils of Japan Airlines’ major commitment announced last week covering a total of 47 regional jets. But the potentially bigger and undoubtedly more desperate winner proved to be Mitsubishi, the upstart regional jet manufacturer whose orderbook now shows memoranda of understanding, tentative agreements and firm orders from six customers.
Speaking to a gathering of reporters Tuesday at the Regional Airline Association Convention in St. Louis, Mitsubishi Aircraft head of marketing Hideyuki Kamiya reported “good progress” on the now six-year-old Mitsubishi Regional Jet program. Now scheduled for first flight in 2015 and first delivery to Japan’s All Nippon Airways in the second quarter of 2017, the MRJ has progressed to the point where managers expect delivery of the first test aircraft’s initial Pratt & Whitney PW1217G by the end of this month, said Kamiya.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on Wednesday transferred the Mitsubishi Regional Jet’s static strength test article from the final assembly factory—the Komaki South plant of MHI’s Nagoya Aerospace Systems Works in Aichi Prefecture—to the strength test station, where preparations have begun to start the program’s static trials this summer.
Mitsubishi Aircraft executives here at the Singapore Airshow yesterday insisted that the four-times-delayed MRJ program has found its stride, notwithstanding recent concerns expressed by its largest customer, SkyWest of the U.S. During a program update at the Singapore Airshow, Mitsubishi Aircraft (Booth V87) director and head of sales Yugo Fukuhara reported that airframe manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will join the wings to the now mostly assembled first fuselage in April, followed by the tail “in a few months.”
Progress has proven slow–tediously slow–for Mitsubishi’s MRJ regional jet program during the two years between the 2011 Dubai Air Show and this one. In fact, program schedules reflect two separate year-and-a-half-long delays to certification since then, placing the company further from its elusive goal today than it thought it stood during the 2011 edition of the Middle East’s premier aerospace event.
Mitsubishi Aircraft’s failure to properly forecast the effects of new U.S. Federal Aviation Administration procedures introduced in 2009 to validate regulatory compliance of production processes led to the latest delay of the MRJ90, according to company executives.
Mitsubishi Aircraft suffered another credibility hit on Wednesday, as the company announced the third major delay to the MRJ regional jet program.
Mitsubishi Aircraft expects parent company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to start final assembly of the first MRJ90 in Nagoya, Japan, within “two to three months,” ostensibly in time for its planned maiden flight by year-end. Schedules call for first delivery of the airplane to launch customer All Nippon Airways of Japan by the end of 2015.
Japan’s first indigenous commercial passenger jet, the MRJ, is on track to make its first flight this year, according to Hideo Egawa, chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Aircraft. While Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has long contributed components and assemblies in support of other manufacturer’s projects, the next-generation MRJ represents its first designed and produced passenger jet. Indeed, Egawa described the task of integrating all the efforts to produce the regional jet as one of the biggest challenges Mitsubishi Aircraft has faced since its launch in 2008.
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