Mitsubishi Heavy Finally Axes SpaceJet Program

 - February 7, 2023, 1:10 PM
The SpaceJet M90 appeared at the 2019 Paris Airshow. (Photo: David McIntosh)

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on Tuesday confirmed the cancellation of the SpaceJet regional airliner program, nearly two and a half years after suspending development. In its discussion of its Q1 to Q3 2022 financial results, the company cited an insufficient initial understanding of the complex type certification process for commercial aircraft and inadequate financial resources to continue long-term development as the main “lessons learned” from the 15-year exercise.

The company also said it failed to confirm the viability of resuming program activity since its suspension in October 2020, due to four main reasons. The first involved further technical revisions necessary to resume prolonged development and the need for decarbonization “solutions.” Second, the company said it ran into difficulty gaining necessary cooperation from global partners.

It also cited little progress on scope clauses in the U.S., the airplane’s biggest target market but one in which the maximum takeoff weight of the larger of the two SpaceJet derivatives—the M90—exceeded the limits specified by language in the pilot union contracts of most regional airlines’ major partners. Finally, it cited pilot shortages, which MHI said adds to the uncertainty of regional jets’ business viability.

"It was disheartening to hear that Mitsubishi had to permanently suspend the SpaceJet program," Rich Mueller, airport director at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington, told AIN. The airport is where SpaceJets were undergoing flight testing when the program was active. "The airport community and the citizens of Moses Lake...miss our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Mitsubishi aircraft are still housed at Grant County International Airport, and we believe representatives from the company will be in touch with us in the next couple of months to share their plans going forward. We, of course, will do all in our power to assist in whatever way is most helpful to them. Our gates will always be open to the company and its employees. This goes doubly for those who spent time with us over the life of the program."

MHI said it will continue its support activities involving the CRJ regional jet, a business it bought from Bombardier in June 2020. The acquisition included maintenance, engineering, airworthiness certification support, refurbishment, asset management, marketing, and sales activities for the CRJ series, along with the type certificates and related intellectual property rights.

The transaction also included the related services and support network mainly located in Mirabel and Toronto, Canada, and in the U.S., in Bridgeport, West Virginia; and Tucson, Arizona. MHI RJ will continue to distribute CRJ series spare parts from warehouses in Chicago and Frankfurt, Germany.

MHI also said it would deepen partnerships with global OEMs, consider “next-generation technologies” with an eye toward unnamed aircraft development programs, apply knowledge and experience from the SpaceJet program to its F-X next-generation fighter, and use SpaceJet equipment and facilities in Aichi Prefecture for other programs.  

Upon the program’s suspension in October 2020, MHI said it would continue some work on type certification documentation with a view to possibly resuming the program at some point in the future.

Earlier in 2020, Mitsubishi Aircraft halted plans to conduct flight testing of the 88-seat M90 twinjet in Moses Lake and shelved development work on the 76-seat M100. In the October 30 announcement, the company did not give a revised target date for completing M90 certification, which has already fallen behind multiple times since the launch of the program in 2008.

In June 2020, MHI announced plans to halve funding for the SpaceJet program after Mitsubishi Aircraft incurred costs totaling ¥263.3 billion ($1.99 billion), in part through the acquisition of Bombardier’s CRJ regional airliner program. 

In early February that year, MHI confirmed the most recent in a series of delays to the program caused by extensive design changes and other engineering issues, indicating that it would push back type certification at least until 2021. In January 2017, the company had pushed back a target date for first deliveries to launch customer All Nippon Airways from mid-2018 to mid-2020, at which point it would have already been seven years behind the original target of 2013.