While Mitsubishi Aircraft recently trumpeted an MOU with Mesa Air Group covering 100 SpaceJets as a signal of the new regional jet family’s market potential, behind the headlines an embryonic product support apparatus prepares to grow into something that will have to rival far more established competing networks if the Japanese company expects the program to succeed long-term. In fact, Mitsubishi executives acknowledge the pitfalls associated with any burgeoning OEM’s efforts to compete with established companies with longstanding customer and supplier relationships and highly developed support systems. However, Mitsubishi Aircraft head of customer support Nelson Jabour and director of service readiness and integration Nicola McCarron point to a broad and considered approach their company has brought to the admittedly monumental task as a distinguishing characteristic.
“We have made a huge investment in the staff and our team this year,” said McCarron. “We have brought on between thirty-five and forty global experts. We’ve carefully hand-selected each of these experts from around the world. And within a very short span, between three and six months, we’ve seen a massive improvement and a surge in performance for entry-into-service readiness for the M90. It’s really been noticed by our launch customer and it’s noticed in our deliverables.”
The larger of the two SpaceJet models under development, the M90 would enter service some time near the middle of next year with Japan’s All Nippon Airways if Mitsubishi hits its targets. Suffering through no fewer than five major program delays since its launch as the MRJ90 in 2008, the M90 appears to have finally found its footing from a design perspective. Now, the company must ensure its support efforts fill what Jabour characterized as organizational and process gaps.
The new support personnel recruited by Mitsubishi have come from many backgrounds and OEMs, noted McCarron, herself a former Bombardier executive. In fact, she emphasized the importance of diversity among the team and its ability to work effectively with customers from around the world.
“We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months meeting with customers, operators, and airlines and we understand what’s important to them is to have excellent communication; inventory and logistics planning has got to be seamless for them; and the way we can achieve that is by having fully integrated systems,” said McCarron. “Certainly tech pubs is important, but having the robust processes in place will allow all the systems to be integrated, from the warehouse all the way through to DHL or FedEx for the parts.”
Mitsubishi Aircraft maintains a partnership with Japanese logistics specialist Mitsui-Soko for warehouse services in Haneda. It also has begun negotiating with potential future partners on plans to establish warehouses in the U.S. and Europe before customers from those regions begin taking deliveries, said Jabour.
“One of the first things that customers want from any OEM is to involve customer support from the development phase, and we are doing that,” he added. “We have been working with flight testing and design engineering in terms of enhancing and improving the reliability and maintainability of the aircraft.”
McCarron stressed the importance of the involvement of the support apparatus during the contract stage of the customer relationship, allowing it the leverage necessary to get the parts at the right time. “That is the key for us,” she said.
Referencing launch customer ANA, McCarron characterized Japanese airlines as the most demanding in the world. “What is unique about Japan is that it’s extremely competitive because the Japanese airlines have to compete against the Shinkansen [high-speed train],” she explained. “The Shinkansen has an average delay of around thirty seconds per day, maybe for the entire fleet. To compete with the Shinkansen the airlines need to have excellent dispatch reliability rates. So working with this Japanese customer is a very positive thing for us because it’s raising our bar.”
Jabour added that ANA’s experience as a launch customer for the Boeing 787 has helped inform Mitsubishi’s approach to the launch of the M90. "ANA is really a top-notch airline and they are helping us test our process, our services, our product; they are working very hard with us,” he explained.
Mitsubishi has contracted with Osaka-based MRO Japan to provide maintenance services in the country. The company, 20 percent owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and 45 percent owned by ANA, already supports Boeing, Airbus, and Bombardier equipment for several airlines in the region.
McCarron explained that much of her team’s focus has centered on executing the company’s so-called digital strategy, one of the most important aspects of which involves aircraft health monitoring. “Other areas of the digital strategy that are not quite so obvious are the integrated systems and the use of your web portal,” she said. “So, again, everything comes back to the optimized planning, making sure you are managing your inventory and your stock and your cash flow. It’s more indirect, but it’s absolutely critical for the success of customer support.”
McCarron said Mitsubishi’s approach differs from previous programs that have suffered from notoriously weak product support in the company’s early engagement with operators and its decision to slowly increase the size of the support team. “I think what happens sometimes, as teams ramp up too quickly a lot of candidates are taken on that were maybe not the best candidates for the job,” she explained. “We are not doing that. We are very deliberately ensuring that we have the best-in-class candidates from around the world, from direct maintenance cost experts to the operations center experts.”