Mitsubishi Sees Clear Skies Ahead for MRJ

 - June 28, 2018, 12:08 PM
The first MRJ flight-test aircraft sits on display during a media trip to the program's flight test center in Moses Lake, Washington. (Photo: Alexa Rexroth)

After a series of delays with the MRJ program, Mitsubishi has announced progress in flight-test development including the coming addition of new test aircraft, upgrade of type certification aircraft to final configuration, and TC testing with Japanese and U.S. aviation authorities. Alex Bellamy, chief development officer and head of program management for the MRJ program, expressed confidence in the future of the MRJ. “We’ve changed the way we operate as a management system,” he said. “We’ve brought in new expertise to enhance our team. We have laser focus on delivery for our launch customer in 2020, ANA. We’ve accomplished the schedule we set out to accomplish over the last 12 months. So that focus is very important; our focus got us here today and the countdown to delivery has begun.”

Bellamy noted program milestones and achievements, including the joining of the wings for MRJ90 Aircraft 7 and Aircraft 10, both of which will join the existing team of four test aircraft next year at the MRJ’s flight test center in Moses Lake, Washington. “For aircraft number one through four, we’re going to maximize the learning out of those, and we’re about to enter an upgrade period with those aircraft to bring them up to final TC configuration,” added Bellamy. “Aircraft 7 and 10 will be introduced next year and they will be operating at high capacity to bring us through to delivery in mid-2020.” 

Now more than 50 percent complete, the test program has logged more than 2,000 flight hours. The four test aircraft have undergone full envelope testing, including in hot and cold, high and low, and fast and slow environments. “All of the dimensions of the envelope from altitude to speed to environmental extremes, we’ve taken the aircraft there,” said Bellamy.

Mitsubishi has worked closely with the Japan Civil Aviation Board and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for full-scale TC testing. “We started flight testing with the JCAB and FAA witnessing our engine rotor lock TC test late last year,” explained Bellamy. “The majority of activity will come in the third to fourth quarter of this year and then into next year. Additionally, the first harnesses have arrived in Nagoya and are currently being prepared for installation.” Bellamy said the MRJ will now undergo the next phase of flight testing, which includes evaluation of runway performance.

Mitsubishi expects nearly 900 regional jets to need replacement between 2022 and 2027 as they face retirement. Yugo Fukuhara, Mitsubishi Aircraft vice president and general manager of sales and marketing, noted that the MRJ will enter the market at an ideal time to exploit the coming need for new regional jets. “Our regional jet market includes over 5,000 expected regional jet deliveries over the next 20 years and the MRJ70 will be an ideal product to get into the North American marketplace under the current scope clause,” said Fukuhara. “[The MRJ90 is] in a very good position for U.S. scope relief while the MRJ70 is scope compliant.”

Most of the orders for the MRJ90 have come from U.S. regionals SkyWest and Trans States Airlines, both of which operate under mainline scope clauses that limit their regional affiliates to jets carrying 76 seats and a maximum takeoff weight of 86,000 pounds. The MRJ90 and Embraer’s E175-E2, although appropriate for a 76-seat layout in a two-class configuration, carry takeoff weights that exceed the scope limits. Of course, Mitsubishi and Embraer hope the airlines can negotiate a relaxation in those limits when the labor agreements of the three U.S. major airlines become amendable in 2019 and 2020.

“Where we stand on the MRJ90, we’ve decided to launch the MRJ70 strategy team, which will move very quickly into the product team,” added Bellamy. “We’re intent on growing our family quickly. The MRJ70 will bring choice into the marketplace. I feel comfortable with where we are with the 90 now so that we can take on the next challenge and bring all of the synergies from the 90 and roll them into the 70.”

Mitsubishi’s MRJ order book currently lists firm orders for more than 200 airplanes and options and purchase rights covering more than 170. It also holds a letter of intent from a leasing company covering firm orders for 10 airplanes and options on another 10.