By Bjorn Fehrm
January 23, 2017, ©. Leeham Co: Mitsubishi announced a further two years delay of the MRJ regional jet project in a press conference in Tokyo today.
The previous scheduled Entry Into Service (EIS) of mid 2018, was announced December 2015. In total, the MRJ program has announced five delays, totaling seven years.
The MRJ program kicked off 2008. The goal was to put Japan back on the world’s civil aircraft scene. The original schedule had certification and EIS in 2013, Figure 1. This schedule is now revised for the fifth time to a mid-2020 EIS. The announcement was made by the parent company of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MAC), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI).
The new schedule is six years (goal according to MHI) or seven years longer (Forecast according to MHI) than the first plan. To give two delivery times as in Figure 1 is unusual, however the difference is seven months on a 12 year development program.
With five delays on a program that should span six years (March 2008 to end 2013) and in the end takes 12, one wonders what has gone so terribly wrong. MHI is as candid about the cause of the delays as it is with the schedule in Figure 1.
The aircraft development started with a Japanese team and this team did not have the expertise needed to understand all the implications of modern certification requirements, Figure 2.
As the Seattle development center and the Moses Lake test center came online, experienced engineers coming from, e.g. Boeing, got insight into the program. The Western workforce started finding oversights in the work of the Japanese team.
The first conclusion of the reviews these teams made was the test program was not realistic. It was based on how aircraft were tested and certified historically. You fly and measure and then decide if things are OK.
This is not how tests are done today. You prepare the test thoroughly, you simulate the test results in a ground environment and you only fly when the ground tests show that you can have a fault-free test flight. Test flights are made to verify results, not to explore developments.
As the international engineering team dived deeper into the design of the MRJ, it found more issues. The MHI press release states that the project needs “revisions of certain systems and electrical configurations on the aircraft to meet the latest requirements for certification.”
LNC understands the Western experts found issues with system redundancy in the aircraft. This now requires redesign of parts of the avionics and electrical setup of the aircraft.
The present aircraft can be safely test flown to verify performance and certify flight characteristics, but the aircraft’s redundancy concept cannot be certified as is, Figure 3.
MHI and its marketing and development arm for the aircraft, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, announced organizational changes as a result of the oversights, Figure 4.
What was previously a Japanese development organization at MAC that took advice from the Seattle/Moses Lake teams will now be an MHI lead program.
The different engineering and management groups will report to the MHI CEO via an MRJ management and a Future Advanced Technology team. Any developments will have the direct involvement of Western experts, both in the decisions around the present program and future aircraft program developments.
The delays prolong the work of an increasingly large development organization. The cash flow impact is shown in Figure 5. The large MHI group will absorb the increased costs.
The forecast implies that MAC would keep its present customer base. We think this is wishful thinking. A total of 150 of the present 223 firm orders are from US regional operators which are operating under US carrier scope clauses (see this article).
It will be increasingly difficult to keep these customers. The delays and scope clauses will probably force these operators to source their aircraft needs from other manufacturers, at least for the shorter term.
There are no signs of the MRJ losing operating performance through the delays but the availability of aircraft has now slipped a least five years from the original plan. The need for operational capacity from regional aircraft in the US market has not slipped.