Pontifications: Potential MRJ safety issue, delay impacts customers

Hamilton KING5_2

By Scott Hamilton

Dec. 21, 2015, © Leeham Co.: Mitsubishi Aircraft announced last week that its MRJ90 program was undergoing a review following three test flights. A new schedule could be announced as early as this week, but by the end of the month is also possible.

The company didn’t indicate what prompted the review, but the 7news service reported that “safety” issues were involved.

A delay in delivery to the first customer, ANA, slated for 2Q2017, is almost a certainty. This isn’t good news for the program, which is already more than two years late.

The first flight was in October. With only two more flight tests in the ensuing two months, the implications aren’t encouraging. Four Flight Test Vehicles (FTVs) were to come to Moses Lake (WA) in the USA next year to engage in full flight testing for certification.

There is too much not known outside Mitsubishi at this time to speculate about the issues, the amount of delay and the impact on the program.

Orders MRJ 122015

Source: Mitsubishi

But it’s potentially ominous for a huge portion of the order book. The customer concentration with two US carriers is huge. Trans States Airlines and SkyWest Airlines have 67% of the backlog. SkyWest accounts for 45% and Trans States 22%. These two airlines operate for a variety of US major carriers, and in any event, labor Scope Clauses must be relaxed to allow for these to operate under the contract with the pilot unions. The MRJ90 weighs more than currently allowed under the Scope.

A third US carrier, Eastern Airlines, has a further 20 on order, representing 9% of the backlog. A start-up airline, there is no Scope Clause to contend with but the risks inherent with a start up exist.

SkyWest and Trans States account for 82% of the options. Eastern has purchase rights for 20; these three carriers account for 92% of the options.

Any substantial delay could put any of these orders at risk; cancellation clauses are common for new airplane programs if timelines and performance targets aren’t met, although we don’t have any insight about the contract provisions with the MRJ.

Scheduled delivery dates are:

  • ANA: 2017
  • Trans States: 2017
  • Air Mandalay: 2018
  • SkyWest: 2018
  • Eastern: 2019
  • JAL: 2021

16 Comments on “Pontifications: Potential MRJ safety issue, delay impacts customers

  1. That’s sad news, it’s never nice to see another engineer’s development go wrong.

    It could be worse though, they’ve got three take-offs and landings on the books. It’s not like the test pilot came back from the first flight and said, “No way”, unless it’s a particularly ‘brave’ pilot.

    We mustn’t forget that the Japanese are generally a very careful bunch, and they often take safety very seriously. Their trains are testament to that. On the MRJ it could simply be something comparatively easy to deal with, but they won’t let it rest of brush it under the carpet until they’re satisfied they’ve fixed it.

    I have an example of their approach to train safety. Not so long ago they upped the eye sight requirements for their Shinkansen drivers. That resulted in a few drivers, who’d previously not needed glasses at all, being prescribed with what must have been close to plain glass spectacles!

    When one of these drivers set off from Shinagawa and got a few hundred meters down the track before realising he’d left his specs behind, he stopped the train right there and then.

    The result? Absolute and total pandemonium on the Shinkansen network. There’s one every 5 minutes Shinagawa – Osaka, the merest hiccup is bound to cause trouble. More importantly, he got a public commendation from his employers for doing the right thing. They’re very proud of their safety record on the Shinkansen network, and something like this only reinforces that reputation.

  2. No Scope Clause for a start-up airline… Of course, because there is no union contract. I hadn’t thought about that

    This opens possibilities in North America, not only for the MRJ, but also for the C Series and larger Embraer E2s.

    Could we see more new carriers arise? Republic can’t and won’t do it, but it could start a new carrier with its 40 + 40 CS300s. Or it could sell its position to a startup.

  3. They will likely operate with a paper weight limit to fit within scope. Given the mix of F/Y+/Y the US airlines are moving to the seat count should not be a problem.

  4. I had to laugh at the Japanese are generally a pretty cautious bunch and take safety seriously.

    I recall the Fukisima disaster, backup power system and switchgear in the basement (regardless of tidal waves you don’t put critical items backup systems like that where they can get flowed out by other sources (fire system faults real or not, water pools stories above, heavy pumps and associated fluid piping in the plant)

    That was followed up by one of the power plants AFTER the disaster loosing a generator and then taking one of the only two spares down form maintenance (and then the third one failed). A huge scramble.

    You simply do not do that but that was their doing things the way we always do it but that is the mind set.

    Keeping in mind there was historical knowledge of prior major quake in that area and the assessment date was cherry picked so they did not have to include it for their design standards.

    Mostly the Japanese attitude is to cover it up at all cost (Toyota) or the 787 battey debacle (Yuasas quality control was non existent with assembly in a horribly polluted environment for a battery that requires a clean room to stand any chance to assemble.

    • “Mostly the Japanese attitude is to cover it up at all cost (Toyota)”

      Afaik the NTSB report found nothing.
      At the core misuse and freeloaders.

      And if you look at HSR in Japan its extremely save.
      It is a strange mix. for sure.

      • For sure you don’t put your emergency generators (or even backup) switchgear, transformers and distribution system in the basement.

        It all should be above ground, above flooding (or any sort, some US plants are iffy) and it should have multiple feeds into he plant to ensure a broken feed does act like a single point of failure.

        • As I understand it the major problem they have a Fukushima is that the cooling ponds for the old fuel rods cracked open in the earthquake and drained. The exposed rods were then able to overheat and containment failed. That’s where most of the radioactivity came from. Even if the reactor cooling hadn’t gone offline they’d still have pretty much the same problems to deal with.

          One might even argue that even if the reactors had been shut down years earlier they would still have had lots of rods in the ponds during decommissioning, and would still have had this problem.

          The reactor vessels themselves didn’t rupture, in which they were extremely fortunate. It was a very close run thing. The hydrogen explosions resulted from venting pressure from the reactors. The explosions caused problems, but if they’d not done that they’d now have four exposed reactor cores, something considerably worse than the current situation.

          • Backup systems can still pump water into the system if its intact.

            My understanding is that they did not crack as they maintained two of the reactors that the generators did survive.

            You still had to cool off the cooling ponds and keeping in mind you had zero control of the plant for the safety features to work (hydrogen venting).

            None of which would occur if they had power.

    • Transworld,
      Sure the Fukushima debacle showed up some real shortcomings, but it’s a long bow from there to accuse Toyota of covering up everything. GM ignition switches, Ford SUV rollovers, Three Mile Island, are just three examples which come to mind. Toyota’s quality, especially for vehicles built in Japan, is the best in the world without any doubt.
      Mitsubishi had a huge vehicle quality problem a few years ago(they airfreighted cast iron discs brakes to New Zealand to fix one urgent problem), looks like they have learned their lesson and are not trying to fudge any problems.

      • I was using Toyota as an example, I did not say that others have not done the same (or like VW maybe worse)

        I did see the Toyota execs at the hearings and if I was a jury they would have been hung.

        They certainly build amazing reliable vehicle regardless but they also are not perfect.

        The references were to refute that Japan is any way superior in safety, they have their good and bad just like all of us.

        • Not a bad idea to read up a bit before you start into executing your justice : http://www.nhtsa.gov/UA

          They had to stoop deeply to keep small remains of dirt sticking to Toyota.
          IMU this was a try at “leveling the table” for the US auto industry, nothing else.
          I wouldn’t be surprised if the VW case cannot juristically made to stick.

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