Mitsubishi's new MRJ90 turned heads during its airshow debut at Farnborough 2018, powered by a pair of high-thrust, low-noise Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan engines.
After several rocky years and numerous delays, the development program is making steady progress toward service entry in 2020 with launch customer All Nippon Airways. The program has reached the halfway point of flight testing and will start increasing certification work later this year.
Mitsubishi Aircraft officials won’t acknowledge what is perhaps the most significant date: July 24, 2020, the first day of the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Just like the Olympic Games, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet carries huge significance for Japan. It marks the beginning of a 70-year-long plan to put the country at the head of the large commercial airplane market. Mitsubishi Aircraft is not simply building a jetliner—it is building an entire industry.
MRJ program chief Alex Bellamy doesn’t deny the weight of that task. “I think we’re through the stumbles. We’re talking about the next program, which shows a level of maturity,” Bellamy said, referring to the smaller MRJ70. “And we’re very much focused on how do we build the best industrial system for the country.”
The program enjoys the full backing of its majority owner, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a behemoth enterprise that spans the energy, manufacturing, transportation and other sectors.
To get the MRJ program off the ground, Mitsubishi Aircraft relied heavily on outside engineering contractors, but it is moving much of that work inside the company to build internal capability, explained Bellamy. “We are transitioning certain pieces of our organization from models that were not as effective as they should have been, and we still have some areas where we are doing that,” including in the U.S.," he said.
Mitsubishi has based the MRJ’s flight testing operations, as well as interiors and some other engineering work, in Washington state. Production takes place in Nagoya, Japan.
“Where we have key skills, we want them to work for Mitsubishi because we’re building a long-term business,” he said. “We don’t want a high contractor base, we don’t want a high consultancy base.”
That includes moving in-house some work done now by engineering services company Aerotec, which currently runs the MRJ flight test program.
“We’ll be bringing the flight testing in-house [with support from Aerotec], Bellamy said. Flight testing expertise is fundamental to building a domestic airplane manufacturing industry in Japan.
The goal is to optimize the organization’s capabilities and “lay a foundation for the next 10 years,” he said. During that period, Mitsubishi plans to introduce the smaller MRJ70 in late 2021 or early 2022 and could develop a larger version. Marketing material includes a light gray silhouette dubbed the MRJ100X below detailed drawings of the MRJ70 and MRJ90.
“It’s on the family plan, but it’s not colored in,” Bellamy said. The program is focused on the two versions in development, and “today we’re not focused at all on the 100,” he added. Mitsubishi has not set a timeline for a decision, but the company continues to monitor demand for regional jets carrying 100 seats.