Mitsubishi Aircraft ended another difficult year with scant cause for optimism about its delayed Mitsubishi Regional Jet.
Commenting on the revised deadline of mid-2020 for the MRJ’s entry into service, Mitsubishi Aircraft president Hisakazu Mizutani told reporters: "We can just about make it."
To keep to its deadline, in the final days of 2017 Mitsubishi established a new ‘Program Management Division’ to reinforce the development and management of the MRJ program.
It also restructured its ‘Engineering Division’ from four departments to five, adding an avionics department to those for aircraft integration, mechanical system design, electrical system design and airframe design. Furthermore, it created specialized offices for interiors, test rigs and EWIS design to speed up communications and decision-making.
First delivery of the 70-90-seat aircraft was originally scheduled for 2017, but that date had been scratched even before an uncontained engine failure during an August 2017 test flight.
Following the in-flight failure of the Pratt & Whitney PW1200G, Mitsubishi temporarily grounded its test fleet.
And while the hold-up may not have been serious to jeopardise the revised 2020 deadline, it does appear to have squashed any hopes that airlines might have the regional jet even sooner.
To make matters worse, one of the aircraft’s few customers, Eastern Airlines, appears to be close to reversing its commitment.
In July 2014 Eastern signed an MoU for 20 firm MRJ90s plus 20 options, but the carrier was acquired by Swift Air in 2017, and many suspect the new buyer is unwilling to wait for the MRJ.
Mitsubishi points out that the order for 20 aircraft is still on its books, although company sources have briefed media that maintaining the order would be difficult.
Altogether the MRJ has 170 orders from US customers, almost three-quarters of its total backlog, but serious questions remain about how those customers can resolve scope clause stipulations that currently restrict them from operating the MRJ.