Bad weather slows MRJ90 flight testing

Feb. 14, 2017, © Leeham Co.: When Mitsubishi announced that it would conduct nearly all the flight testing for its new MRJ90 in Moses Lake in Eastern Washington State, one of the reasons was its history of good weather.

  • Mitsubishi presents today at the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance conference in Lynnwood (WA).

Hitoshi Isawa, EVP of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. Photo via Google images.

It turns out that this is the worst winter there in 20 years. Snow storms became blizzards, shutting down nearby Interstate 90, sometimes for days. Driving to Moses Lake from Seattle, where part of Mitsubishi’s engineering force is located, became impossible when three mountain passes were closed due to avalanches, rock slides and fallen trees. Temperatures reached an all-time low in Moses Lakes in two decades.

“I never experienced this kind of cold weather in Japan,” said Hitoshi Iwasa, Executive Vice President, Operations Support, in an interview with LNC last week. “Many people in Moses Lakes told me this is the coldest weather in 20 years.”

Flight testing slowed

As a result, flight testing with three of four Flight Test Aircraft (FTAs) is running slower than planned.

Hitoshi said about 400 hours have been completed among the four FTAs, three in Washington and one in Japan. The Moses lake airplanes are flying 3-4 flights a day

MRJ90. Photo via Google images.

for 10 hours—when the weather is good.

Certification required 2,500 hours, but Mitsubishi must add more (how much is unclear now) due to design changes that are necessary to protect the airplane against catastrophic failure in the event of a bombing; or water contamination of some systems.

Hitoshi said these were not related to redundancy issues, as some media reported. The changes result in another program delay, with entry-into-service now set for 2020.

Impact on MRJ70

Assembly of the first MRJ70, the smaller, 70-seat sibling, is underway. Hitoshi said design changes will be incorporated into the first aircraft. The additional work will slow assembly; the dates for the roll-out and first flight haven’t been announced, Hitoshi said.

There are no orders yet for the MRJ70. But this is the fallback airplane in case US labor pilot contract Scope Clauses restricting the weight of aircraft that regional airlines fly for major carriers are relaxed.

The MRJ90 exceeds the 86,000 lb weight limit. US regional airlines Trans States and Skywest account for two thirds of the total orders for the MRJ90. (Other US carriers and lessors bring the share of US-based orders to 80%.)

Hitoshi said the extra EIS delay to 2020 gives time for contracts to be renegotiated in 2019. But in the event the Scope isn’t relaxed, he believes the MRJ70 will be the answer.

The competing Embraer E175-E2, with the new Pratt & Whitney GTF engine, is also too heavy. EIS for this model, originally 2020, was rescheduled to 2021 for the Scope Clause issue.

The in-production E175-E1, with the CF-34 engine, is within the Scope Clause weight limit. The even smaller (and lighter) E170 is no longer being purchased by airlines.

The MRJ70, also with the PW GTF, is the only 70-passenger aircraft with the next generation engine, Hitoshi says.

Mitsubishi points out that there are about 1,000 50-70 regional jets operating in the US, providing Mitsubishi with a large market potential for the airplane.

Additionally, the US only represents 35% of the global market for this size aircraft.

Pratt & Whitney

Hitoshi said Mitsubishi isn’t seeing any of the issues with the PW GTF engine that plagued Airbus on its A320neo. Rotor bowing, oil bearing problems, production ramp up and blade issues have driven PW, Airbus and its customers crazy with delays and on-wing time.

Of course, only being in flight testing relieves pressure on these issues. MRJ program delays will give PW ample time to work out teething problems.

But Hitoshi says fuel economy is better than forecast—though he declined to give a figure.

Flight Test Aircraft

The assignments for the FTAs are:

  • FTA 1: Flight envelope expansion and systems. FTA 1 was the first to arrive in Moses Lake.
  • FTA 2: Function and performances tests (including engines).
  • FTA 3: Flight characteristics and avionics. This airplane is in Japan, soon transferring to Moses Lake.
  • FTA 4: Interior, noise and anti-ice testing. This was the second to arrive in Moses Lake.
  • FTA 5: Electrical and lightning testing. This remains in Japan.

10 Comments on “Bad weather slows MRJ90 flight testing

  1. A bit of bad luck as far as the weather is concerned. A bit of a Murphy’s Law element there. I would have thought that for good weather, one would go somewhere further south, like Wichita or California or Nevada.

    Question about the 70 seat market, Is Bombardier that out of it with the RJ70 that they don’t even get mentioned?
    Would a next gen engine on an RJ70 make some sort of difference? Or is it an altogether comfort issue?

    I can understand that as the RJ70 is, when you put in to perspective, essentially a 70 seat business jet.

    • The Bombardier CRJ700 is still available, but is tight for 76 passengers in one class. Carriers are preferring the CRJ900, also below the scope clause weight limit and allowing for dual-class seating with ample legroom in a 76-seats configuration, with a margin for adding seats if it becomes possible in the future.

  2. Why would an aircraft manufacturer gamble so much money to develop an aircraft the sale of which depended on factors completely outside of their control?

    What makes them think the unions will agree to change the scope limits? Do they have financial guarantees from the carriers that ordered the aircraft?

    • Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation is a joint venture of four heavyweights of the Japanese industry and started as goverment funded $420 million project to create an aircraft manufacturing industry in Japan, so MRJ must be seen as a national rather than a corporate project.
      Since interest rates are ridiculously low in Japan, both, the government and corporations, have access to cheap money. Also, the Japanese borrow almost exclusively from their own banks, so they are not prone to bankster gambling from the City or Wall St.
      In this climate there is simply no pressure to quickly produce revenue. MRJ is a starting point of a long term project with the aim bring Japan on a par with other manufacturing countries/regions.

  3. In between storms though the weather is fine.

    Not to mention you can fly to Seattle etc quite nicely.

    Lots of help there with Boeing present.

    In a few weeks it will be, I never saw weather this hot in Japan!

  4. Why on earth is Mitsubishi even bothering, the best equivalent would be if Dassault decided to do a civilian airliner…oops they once did that and look how that turned out. Just because you build the outer wing box in carbon for the 787 doesnt mean you have the expertise to do a whole airliner. Kawasaki would be the ones with whole airframe expertise on larger body or civilian type planes in japan , not Mitsubishi who seem to have their expertise in fast jets..

  5. Kind of surprised at the Japanese and their constant delay announcements and the EIS being pushed ahead by years. They seem to have developed the mindset of today’s corporations by being overly optimistic and over promising.
    With Embraer being on time as far as development and flight testing for the E2, they are positioned to capture the lions share of the large RJ market.
    I hear Bombardier is thinking of a next generation line of CRJ series. How long will that take?

    • would think you could slap the ERJ175 sized GTF on the CRJ pretty easily and get another 10 years out of the old girl for minimal investment.

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