SpaceJet Program in Distress as Mitsubishi Cuts Funding

 - May 14, 2020, 8:37 AM
A Mitsubishi SpaceJet M90 undergoes checks following a test flight at the Moses Lake Flight Test Center in Washington state. (Photo: Barry Ambrose)

Mitsubishi Aircraft said it hopes “to have a clearer picture soon” of the effect on operations of its parent company’s decision to suspend studies related to the 70-seat Spacejet M100 program and slash funding for M90 development. The moves will delay expected first delivery of the 88-seat M90 from mid-2020 to sometime in 2021 “or later,” Mitsubishi Heavy Industries reported on Monday during a discussion of its annual results for its fiscal year ending March 31.

MHI said it would more than halve funding for the SpaceJet as it reported program impairment losses from its planned acquisition of the Bombardier CRJ program and development costs for the 2019 fiscal year totaling 263.3 billion yen ($2.46 billion), compared with total expenditures of 85.1 billion yen in 2018. This year it plans to pare SpaceJet development spending from 140.9 billion yen to 60 billion yen as it addresses Covid-19-related pressures throughout the wider enterprise.

“Company and program leadership have been busy determining the effect on company and program operations, and evaluating our options to continue the progress we have made over the last few years,” a Mitsubishi Aircraft spokesman told AIN in a written statement. “We hope to have a clearer picture soon and will provide an update then.”

News of the cuts come less than two months after the first M90 in the design’s final certifiable configuration flew for the first time from Nagoya, Japan, marking the start of the final phase of certification flight testing. However, the airplane has yet to join the rest of the flight test fleet in Washington state, where Mitsubishi conducts testing at the Moses Lake Flight Test Center, as the company continues to address Covid-related logistical challenges.

On February 6 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries confirmed a new delay to the M90 program, acknowledging that it would not complete type certification of the narrowbody this year as previously planned. MHI announced the program’s sixth major delay following a quarterly financial briefing. A company spokesman told AIN that the decision to further push back type certification followed multiple additional design changes to the 88-seat aircraft.

In January 2017, Mitsubishi delayed first delivery of the aircraft, then designated the MRJ90, from mid-2018 to mid-2020 due to revisions to certain systems and electrical configurations to meet the latest certification requirements. At that point, a revised mid-2020 target date would have meant that the airliner had fallen seven years behind the original service entry date, set at program launch in 2008.

In June 2019, Mitsubishi redesignated the 76-seat MRJ70 the M100 and the 88-seat MRJ90 as the M90, at the same time adopting the SpaceJet brand name. The M100 model meets the 86,000-pound maximum takeoff weight threshold to comply with U.S. pilot union scope clause agreements. Japan’s All Nippon Airways remains the program’s launch customer.