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MHI Discontinues SpaceJet Regional Aircraft Program
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries(MHI) announced the discontinuation of SpaceJet development activities, which Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, a consolidated MHI Group company, had pursued. The company previously announced freezing development of the regional aircraft in 2020. The company quietly scrapped the test articles at its base in Moses Lake, Wash.
In its financial results briefing, the company cited several reasons for canceling the program.
Technology: Partial revisions are needed due to prolonged development. Decarbonization solutions are also required.
Product: Difficult to obtain understanding and necessary cooperation from global partners
Customer: Little progress on scope clause (conditions related to aircraft number and size included in airline-labor union agreements) relaxation resulted in M90’s not meeting North American RJ market needs. Recent pilot shortages also add to the uncertainty of SpaceJet’s business viability.
Funding: Further extensive funding is required to continue the Type Certification acquisition process. Business is not feasible in the market environment described above.
While the group does not have another active aircraft developmental program, it is still committed to the aerospace industry. It plans to continue OEM business with the acquired CRJ program. In addition, it will also apply knowledge learned to the F-X next-generation fighter program. Meanwhile, the industry giant will look for next-generation technologies suited for new aircraft development programs.
The MRJ or SpaceJet program started in 2008, with an order for 25 aircraft from All Nippon Airways — targeting a 2013 introduction. The first test flight occurred on November 11, 2015, with a total of 7 MRJ90 test aircraft and 1 MRJ70 test aircraft, the program accumulated over 3,900 flight test hours.
The ill-fated jet had nearly 200 conditional orders from the U.S.’s Skywest Airlines and Republic Airways Holdings. However, the conditional order would never materialize, as the pilot union outright refused to adjust the scope clause.
The aircraft — renamed SpaceJet in 2019 — was supported by the Japanese government and domestic firms, including Toyota. It also attracted another headlining order from Mesa Airlines with the relaunch of M100, a 76-seat airplane that would have met the scope clause.
Sadly, with mounting cost overruns and the pandemic’s impact, the Japanese company slashed the program’s budget by 95%, effectively killing the program. Eventually, it started dismantling the test articles after shutting down its office in Seattle and Moses Lake, leading to the official cancellation this week.
The development of the Mitsubishi SpaceJet was Japan’s first domestic attempt to produce a commercial plane since the YS-11, a turboprop made by Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing that ended its production in 1974.
Mitsubishi Heavy has been a major aerospace component supplier. Due to the country’s close ties with the US, it has been heavily involved in Boeing’s supply chain, providing some of the most critical components, such as the wing box of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Despite its experience designing and manufacturing structural components for the aerospace industry, the company struggled to define requirements and create a complete aircraft.
In 2014, the company signed an agreement with the Seattle-based aerospace engineering firm AeroTEC seeking flight test assistance for the Mitsubishi regional jet. Unfortunately, the technical expertise was insufficient to bring new life to the program.
In the end, not only did the world lose a potential competitor for the Embraer E-jets, but Japan’s Aircraft OEM dream will also have to wait for another day.
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