The news that Mitsubishi will stage flight testing for its new MRJ 90-seat jet program at Moses Lake (WA) is, parochially, good news. And it is exactly the type of non-industrial aerospace business that we’ve been advocating for Washington since our consulting days to the State Department of Commerce in 2010, and during our tenure as a member of the Board of Directors for the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) for three years (2010-2013).
Washington, understandably, has been married to, and focused on, industrial aerospace. Boeing is here, of course. The supply based the supports Boeing has a huge footprint in Washington. But industrial business is highly capital-intensive, and winning this business is highly competitive.
We advocated a “Beyond Boeing” approach to aerospace in a 2009 speech before the Governor’s Aerospace Summit in Spokane (WA). Two weeks later, then-Gov. Christine Gregoire began talking about aerospace Beyond Boeing. This has picked up since.
We strong advocated a non-industrial approach to supplement the industrial footprint. We specifically advocated creating an engineering center that could in-source work from non-Boeing aerospace company. (Boeing is helpfully creating a ready-made engineering workforce by killing some 4,000 engineering jobs here this year and next.) Although the State hasn’t taken any action (that we know of) on this particular suggestion, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier and, yes, Mitsubishi need engineers.
The Japanese company and Gov. Jay Inslee announced at FAS that the MRJ would come to Moses Lake, a former USAF base during the Cold War and an alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle. It has a 13,500 ft runway and was for decades a pilot training site for Japan Air Lines. It’s in Central Washington and is blessed by constant sunshine and (depending on your viewpoint) little rain. There is little air traffic of any kind in the area. It’s perfect for flight tests and Boeing routinely sends its planes from Puget Sound to Moses Lake during test programs.
This Mitsubishi plan requires little capital investment, though a partnering company is going to build a hanger large enough to accommodate the 777-9–obviously hoping to land that test program when it arrives around 2018, just about the time the MRJ flight testing will wind down.
Washington was right to pursue the industrial business for the 777X assembly line and composite wing production. But this non-industrial business should be pursued further.
Meantime, also in connection with the FAS: