A new, long-delayed 88-passenger jet from Japan may finally be the right airplane at the right time. The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the first airliner built in Japan since the 1960s, began certification flights last month in Moses Lake, Washington, to satisfy that demand.
On 27 March 2019, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation announced it has received the Letter of Authorization (LOA) from United States civil aviation authority, the Federal Aviation Administration. The LOA provides authorization for the FAA team to be onboard the Mitsubishi Regional Jet in support of certification activities and pilots from the FAA have already flown two familiarization flights in the Mitsubishi Regional Jet.
“The Letter of Authorization from the FAA is another key milestone in the development of our Mitsubishi Regional Jet program. We look forward to coordinating with the FAA and the JCAB as we move forward with our certification plans,” said Hisakazu Mizutani, President of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation.
Mitsubishi’s new airliner is testing the skies just as rivals are moving to sell off their manufacturing operations for jets with up to 160 seats, Bloomberg reported. Boeing Co. is set to buy 80% of the Embraer SA’s commercial operations in a joint venture, while Bombardier Inc. last year sold control of its C Series airliner project to Airbus SE and is exploring “strategic options” for its regional-jet operations. At stake, particularly in the market for jets with fewer seats, is $135 billion in sales in the two decades through 2037, according to Japan Aircraft Development Corp.
With few seats and smaller fuselages, regional jets are a different class of aircraft from larger narrow-body planes such as Boeing’s 737 or Airbus’s A320. The MRJ has a range of about 2,000 miles, while a smaller variant can haul up to 76 people for about the same distance.
A longtime supplier of aircraft components to Boeing, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is developing the MRJ to emerge from its customer’s shadow. After spending at least $2 billion over more than a decade, the manufacturer is looking to get its jet certified and start deliveries to launch partner ANA Holdings Inc.
Mitsubishi initially planned test flights in 2012 but blew past that deadline because of production difficulties. Now the company, which makes ships, nuclear power plants and aerospace components, expects to have the plane ready for customers next year, a timetable that will test the company, said Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. President Hisakazu Mizutani.
“This coming year is extremely important for us,” Mizutani said at a media event on April 16 in the central Japanese city of Nagoya.
The company announced in October it was pumping an extra 170 billion yen in capital to its aircraft unit’s existing capital of 100 billion yen; Mitsubishi also canceled 50 billion yen of the debt owed by the aircraft division.
Adding to Mitsubishi’s challenges is a lawsuit filed by Bombardier in Seattle last October, accusing the Japanese company of acquiring secret information and causing Bombardier “to suffer irreparable financial loss.” Mitsubishi counter-sued, denying the Montreal-based company’s accusations. Bombardier denies the allegations and will vigorously defend itself, spokesman Simon Letendre said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg.
Mitsubishi isn’t the only Asian manufacturer betting that it can build aircraft cheaper and more efficiently. Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., also known as Comac, has a new regional jet in service, while Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. is studying whether to develop a 100-passenger aircraft, Bloomberg noted.
In order to compete, Mitsubishi can’t just rely on its home market. The biggest customers therefore could be in the U.S., where large airlines try to cut costs by outsourcing short flights to smaller carriers that fly regional jets.
As part of its preparations to ramp up deliveries and support operations, Mitsubishi’s aircraft unit separated its sales and marketing divisions this month, created a customer support unit and moved its U.S. headquarters to Renton, Washington, the Seattle suburb where Boeing assembles its 737 jets.