Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation’s tough 2017

By Bjorn Fehrm

January 02, 2018, ©. Leeham Co: The past year was difficult for Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MAC) and its MRJ regional airliner. Although clear progress was made in the flight-testing of the MRJ, problems were found with the aircraft’s avionics and cabling redundancy.

The result is an avionics and cabling systems redesign which pushes out first delivery from 2018 to 2020. It’s the fifth and the longest delay of the program.

MRJ program delays

The MRJ program was launched March 2008, with the first delivery of the MRJ90 version to lead customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) 2013.

After several delays, the first MRJ90 prototype flew November 2015. Delivery was now moved to 2018, as a redesign of the wing-body join area and the landing gear was necessary.

Flight-testing of the MRJ started in Nagoya, Japan, but was moved from the busy Nagoya area to the non-congested Moses Lake (WA) in the USA. For this purpose, experienced flight-testing consultants were engaged.

As these prepared the test plans for the MRJ in cooperation with MAC, they realized the aircraft had flaws in its avionics and cabling redundancy. From our June 2017 article:

When MAC engaged Aerotec L.L.C. of Seattle to aid with flight tests and certification, the experienced Aerotec team began analyzing how the MRJ should be certified. They soon saw problems with the criteria for safety for avionics and its wiring. Damage from explosion/engine part penetration, water flooding (from a ruptured fresh waterline) and fire damage to the avionics and its wiring could cause single point of failure.

The separation of avionics functions and its wiring would not pass the tests in the two below deck avionics compartments in front of and aft of the wing. As an example, the landing gear controller, while being dual channel, had both functions in one box. One event could knock out the landing gear extension function.

Project changes

This discovery had several consequences:

  • Program completion was moved out two years. Additional test aircraft with changed avionics placement and partitioning and with reconfigured wiring was needed. Avionics changes were quickly decided but rewiring a modern aircraft is a major project. It took most of 2017 to complete.
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the parent of MAC, realized the original program setup had organizational and competency deficiencies. Several reorganizations followed, with the latest changing a predominately functional organization into an Integrated Product Team. The Integrated Product Team has Engineering, Certification, Supply Chain Management, Manufacturing and Product Management gathered in one line of management.
  • MHI, now having direct oversight of the project, made sure MAC complemented the original team with the necessary external expertise, to make sure the project could avoid further delays.

The flight test program scheduled for 2,500 flight hours with five flying aircraft and two ground test items is now planned for 3,000 hours and nine aircraft. Two redundancy conform aircraft will join the program in second half of 2018. They will perform the added radio and electromagnetic interference testing needed and join functional/reliability testing followed by operational route proving.

Sales trouble

The many delays have affected customers orders. The MRJ has 243 orders from eight customers. But there hasn’t been a new order in 18 months and MHI President Miyanaga announced just before Christmas, the Eastern Airlines order of 20 MRJ90s, is likely to be cancelled.

The large orders from Trans States Holdings (50) and SkyWest (100) are troubled as well. The regional carriers fly for mainline airlines, who have scope clause agreements with their pilot unions. These agreements regulate the size of the aircraft the regional contractor may have and the number of aircraft he can operate with.

The MRJ90 and smaller MRJ70 were not designed to fit the present US scope clauses. The larger MRJ90 is too heavy to fit under the Maximum Take-Off  Weight (MTOW) allowed in the scope clauses. The smaller and lighter MRJ70 could be offered in an MTOW version fitting the MTOW limit, but its cabin is too short to allow the 76 seats three-class cabin wanted by the mainline customers.

MAC expected the scope clause negotiations taking place autumn 2016 to change the MTOW limit. It didn’t and it’s now doubtful the limit will change in the next negotiation rounds, 2019.

While Trans States Holdings and SkyWest could buy the smaller MRJ70 to fit the present clauses, there are more suitable aircraft available from Embraer (E175) and Bombardier (CRJ900). These seat 76 passengers in the wanted First, Premium economy and Economy class.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen with this 67% of MAC’s order backlog, should the US Scope Clauses not change 2019 or the years thereafter.


The MRJ project has been painful for MAC and MHI. The original time plan has gone from five years to 12 years and project cost has more than doubled. If the business plan was to introduce a competitor to the regional aircraft market, a normal project would have been axed. But it wasn’t.

After decades of acting as a sub-supplier to a growing air transport market, Japan decided to become a player in the market. The MRJ is the start of this journey.

51 Comments on “Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation’s tough 2017

  1. There are going to be some losers in a heavy contested market;


    The CS100/300’s and E-Jets in a class of their own with the potentially backing of the two big OEM’s

    • Simple. As Comrade Stalin’s Order No. 227 said: “Not one step back.” (LOL)

      • “Simple. As Comrade Stalin’s Order No. 227 said: “Not one step back.” (LOL)”

        I you referring to the scope clause?

    • I think you way too strongly discount the CRJ 700 and 900 series prospects. As long as the scope clause holds (negotiations on it don’t open again till 2020), they’re perfect for the US regional markets.

  2. once again I am mystified that the scope clause is not purely route range and seat count based and that MTOW is in any way involved.

    presumably a 1000 NMI/76 installed seat rule would have the same (or improved from the pilots union perspective) effect on controlling which flights must be flown by mainline unionized pilots, while freeing the airlines to use the most cost efficient possible aircraft in that role..

  3. “If the business plan was to introduce a competitor to the regional aircraft market, a normal project would have been axed. But it wasn’t.

    After decades of acting as a sub-supplier to a growing air transport market, Japan decided to become a player in the market. The MRJ is the start of this journey.”

    Asians are more patient.

    • And more willing to take hundreds of millions (USD) in losses?

  4. This has nothing to do with ethnicity.

    It has everything to do with when to pull the plug on a major industrial project. MHI reported a market forecast of 3500 70-90 seat aircraft over 20 years in their most recent annual report. They don’t expect big profits or majority share obviously, but feel writing it off isn’t justified, net.

    The MHI CEO himself is overseeing the committee fixing their formerly inadequately broad development team (“Business Promotion Committee”). They see costs peaking in 2018 and 2019, and really they are trivial compared to the total for MHI; no point in killing the program vs. continuing it.

    It’s a nearly 100 year old aerospace/industrial conglomerate, and much like the net group pride behind the A380, they are reluctant to walk away from commercial projects unless they have to, especially as Boeing seems to be moving steadily away from them as well. As in the US and Europe, commercial projects are seen as a long term counterbalance to Defense spending, with a much different short/mid/long term perspective than, for instance, China.

    • Boeing is in a different league to Mitsubishi aircraft. Their specialty is fast military jets and they have an interesting project they are working on in that area.
      Walk away now before it gets even worse, like they did with their helicopter project. It seems to fly well and they have come a long way, as a business project its a joke.

  5. At issue though is the market they are shooting for.

    Lots of competitors and your only in scop0e offering is not as capable as the others.

    This smacks of an A380/A400 class.

    If you are going to shoot for the moon do what C Series did (and failed under BBD but resurrected under Airbus)

    But to avoid Boeing they undershot and based on a hope not a given.

    And they can’t sell under price in the US as Airbus can sue them for dumping.

    So for the rest of the world market is what they would be fighting for. Why would you not buy a C100 vs the MRJ?

    My take is this will fold in a couple more years as reality rears its ugly head.

  6. You could well be correct, TW. Electing to shoot for a “sane” business plan without larger investments, probably backfired relative to what the Cseries could do, as a product.

    However, it didn’t jeopardize the larger parent’s financials/business, and it ‘misfired’ by predicting a ‘sane’ union negotiation in the US, which from the outside looking in might have been a logical assumption. The domestic (US) pilot unions are far from sane actors, however, relative to their partner airlines business success. Embraer, it would be noted, made basically the same mistake with the E2 positioning/segmenting.

    The manufacturing equivalent is the tens of billions Boeing has spent to diversify away from IAM751, over the past 15 years. They realize that business sanity is not a fair expectation in negotiating/strike positions.

    Mitsu could easily re-commit to commercial prime with a larger product, even with a substantial Korean/Indonesian/Chinese partner, after this experience, whether they keep selling/making these MRJ’s for 10 years or not. I doubt strongly they give up, as BBD wound up doing so by selling out to Airbus.

    • By their standards US Mainline Pilots are very sane. They see it as protecting jobs.

      And saner by the day as there is no spare pilots anymore, no US Airline (or overseas) can survive a strike. I don’t blame them for getting what they can.

      Not a clue what Mistubishi is going to do.

      They failed with the MU-2, they failed with the YS-11.

      Better off would have been to partner with Boeing on a C series type but that would have required serious vision.

      This is just a side kick operation and like the A380, not supported by real world reality. Just the way they went about it shows how clueless they were.

      Embraer at least maintained a full supported foothold in the under scope aircraft and did not bet the bank on scope going away. They have an offering if it does.

      There is some world market for that type aircraft and they can sell it outside the US and or coordinated fleet outside the US with the range of aircraft.

  7. I’m confused. The article says:

    The MRJ program was launched March 2008, with the first delivery of the MRJ90 version to lead customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) 2013.

    But then it says the first prototype flew November 2015 and delivery has moved to 2018.

    • 2013 was the original EIS plan. Delays now have moved EIS to 2020.

      • By 2020 many E2’s will be sold along with the C series. Kind of surprised by poor planning by the Japanese who always had solid planning with entry dates being realistic. They turn out some of the best cars with what I consider the best engineering and design staff around.

  8. The MRJ program is the first Domestic designed aircraft to be built after a long absence by the Japanese Aerospace industry.
    The thinking in 2008 was to play it safe with the systems designs and use proven technology from the establishment which was hoped to offset the the GTF engine risk. Now they have a plane that’s being introduced in 2020 with a design established in 2008, a full 12 years time span. The typical 6-7 year clean sheet design to certification optimum timeline being doubled. Given Mitsubishi has not done this in quite awhile, it’s not surprising they are learning the the difficulty in meeting certification to the latest standards. Unfortunately some sales prospects can’t wait until 2020, they are forced to modify their fleet plans in favour of other types. I feel for the MRJ team as they work through the rough patches. The MRJ program is a matter of national pride for the Japanese people and i have no doubt it will come to fruition.

    • MHI is Learning, better and cheaper to hit problems on a 70/90 seat aircraft that can be a good biz-jet than on a 150 seater. It looks great and has good finish, once they get all systems and its routings sorted out they can move to a 150-200 seat Aircraft if structures and aero is great and meet analysis results on the MRJ90. Looking at other industries like steel, machinery, ships, high speed trains, cars the Japanese has mastered them all, they also made expensive Projects in Rockets, fighter Aircrafts and Engines. There are parallells to the Chinese with the ARJ90, C919, steel making, ships, cars, machinery, high speed trains, space rockets, fighter aircrafts and its engines.
      Hence MHI and its subsidaries can be the same chock to Boeing as Toyota was to GM if MHI keep improving and launching new Aircrafts maybe teaming up with Honda, Kawasaki KHI, Fuji FHI or IHI on some new products.

      • I actually totally agree with you and think that is the direction they are heading. However they need to get the right mgmt and engineering skills behind it to get the work done. That is the main reason for the continued delays and will likely cause another delay again past 2020. MHI will need to get serious.

  9. At least Boeing is only paying to certify one engine on the -7. Their whole focus seems to be standardizing the various lines even down to seats (hi, zodiac) and sticking any customer change cost delays on the airline/user. I doubt they lose a single cent of profit on -8 conversions.

    US mainline pilots may be acting in self interest, but I’d argue their interests are driven by senior members focusing on their near term contract goals, rather than long term employer/fleet needs. They have become fantastically overpaid bus drivers in reality, holding a domestic industry hostage to further maturation as technology allows, while becoming more and more divorced from any customer interaction.

    It’s funny, given the political bent of this site, against short term corporate profiteers/quarterly goals, that the pilots unions impacts on fleet decisions is largely not analyzed for impact, or motivation, at least that I’ve read. It’s surely not presidential politics but it’s very nuanced how it has played out and impacted the aviation industry in the us at least for the next few year s.

  10. Mitsubishi Aircraft tried to enter the helicopter market too, with a reasonable effort in the 4-5 tonne market. About 5 years after first flight they pulled the plug when they realised they werent able to find many buyers

    Before the MRJ, the only civil projects were the little MU-2 turboprop business aircraft and MU300 business jet which ended up being made by Beech/Hawker as the 400

      • Kawasaki had success when it developed the BK-117 helicopter with MBB now Airbus Helicopters Germany. Further developed into the EC145. Both models known for the rear clamshell doors.
        The C-2 military transport had some plans to be offered as a civilian certified version, I think they soon realised the standards required made that plan unrealistic and stuck with the military certification.

    • Don’t forget the NAMC YS11, 1962 to 1974. Kinda lik3 a Rolls Dart-engined Convair 580!

  11. Great article. Great comments. Considering that Mitsubishi hasn’t sold too many aircraft at this time – and placing the scope clause challenge aside – do you have any practical recommendations that will help them improve sales over their competitors (prior to the MRJ 2020 EIS date)? Think global. Tough area, but confident that commentators here – especially the “sales experts” – can come up with some good ones.

  12. Good followup to the June article. The comments there were pretty revealing. Their helicopter program is in trouble too am told by an insider…
    MRJ sales is in trouble but may not stop the program as the government is more interested in the capability first and foremost. That said with the 100 org changes the program still does not have their certification plans and master schedule completed. That shoould be a wake up call to MHI that they dont have the right folks in the org! I suspect even MHI does not know what to do about it. Also Aerotec aint no expert. They are newbies in design and from what I’m told they have been more the provlem than the solution… Also uou can run thousands of ‘successful flight tests’ dont mean didly squat if you dont have ceet plans approved and a real integrayed master schedule.

  13. I dont know if the paragraphs in Italics is the author’s words ot Aertotec’s etc, but it does not make any sense. Its a hodge podge of things. Whoever wrote that is inconpetent. I am a Boeing engineer in Seattle area.

  14. I agree with Tom. Regardless of Scope clause challenges, etc, Comac and Mitsubishi are faced with the same woes. They have people to design a commercial plane and get it into Flight Test, but the skills necessary to attain FAA and EASA certification (from a Safety perspective) and finish the project in time (Integrated Master Schedule) is not there. From a technical side this is especially true for the Airplane Systems design and integration portions for certification which is complex and difficult, and getting those skill sets onboard require experienced management with the right plan- to do the people selection and org structure building. From what I know as of this month, after non-stop Org changes, MRJ still does not have all the right right skill sets, and both MHI and COMAC do not know how to go about the process of fixing their organizations. There are various “actors” in the orgs at both places and at all levels and COMAC and MHI are finding that out the tough way. If for some desperate reason they are able to get their home countries’ cert agencies to certify the airplanes, I’m not putting my family on them until FAA and EASA have reviewed and blessed the designs, which till now they have flat out refused to do. This is the latest from Mitsubishi and COMAC engineers who have some clue. This may be good news for teh Western and Brazilian Airframers, or a non-issue.
    Bjorn- please have a conversation with MHI on when they plan to get their Certification Plans and Integrated Master Schedule finalized such that the FAA (and EASA) can approve them. Otherwise the Skywest and Transtate orders (300 airplanes) as flaky as they already are, are sure to get cancelled next perhaps as early as this year.

  15. Recently, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MAC) reorganized itself while promoting improved efficiency and speed.

    While the above is a step in the right direction, if they do not already have a fully-defined Integrated Master Plan (IMP), Integrated Master Schedule (IMS), Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), Certification Network (Local and International), Certification Plans, and Risk Mitigation Plans in place, the MRJ’s EIS date of June 2020 (mid-2020) will not be achieved.

    For many of us tracking the MRJ program, it would be great to see MAC publish (publicly) their key program milestones and status covering the above items. Then, and only then, will their ability to complete this program and sell airplanes be understood or, perhaps, well received. Transparency is key.

    Now, can somebody explain why did MAC open an MRJ museum? Good or bad omen for the program?

    • Totally true Joseph. Yeah on the museum thing it proves the bizarre nature of the entire project- museum before certification. lol. Efficiency and speed without the necessary talent is a no go isn’t it? Propagandish

    • Hi Josh,

      Good comments, probably the best so far I’ve seen. However I don’t think they will publish these as metrics/status, as I’ve never seen that done before. What we know is that accountability is very low to non-existent with the management there even today. Many good people have already left the program due to politics or because they did not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Talent makes all the difference in a startup as you know, and the “actor” and “inexperienced” people comments someone made here is true to the bone- Both in management, Engineering, Supplier Management- leadership and the teams within. The supplier network has basically disengaged and written off the MRJ program from their priority list due to extreme weakness in Mitsubishi’s management team. The management team in fact are viewed by the Supplier network as “inexperienced child actors with massive egoes”.

      So there you have it, that is causing all the delays and most fear that there will be yet another delay past 2020 without a real “shakeup” or “Plan C”.

      This program could in fact just be “a side project” that someone else suggested here and not important to Mitsubishi or Japan, in which case would be cheating the Japanese public in a big way and wasting their tax money…? wow.

  16. New Org, Same People, Reshuffle the deck of cards, prolong til more cancellations LOL

  17. Mitsubishi says things are now organized better yet again. It is unreasonable to expect for leadership with no prior certification experience to say this, correct? Because they just dont know what it takes. Truly sad to see them stuck in this suicidal loop.

    We think the situation is no different than where it was 2 years ago…

  18. Mitsubishi seems to be bent on the “we’ll need to do with what we have” vs the ” we need to go get what we need” mindset on people capabilities. This is the current Japanese management mentality there. With that approach by leadership there will be more delays to come, especially after the next Critical Design Review completing Jan 31 2018 ( a second one after a year) findings once again get covered up in front of media to make things look good.
    It does not have to be this way.

  19. And 2018 is off to a bad start for MRJ!

    It is now confirmed that MRJ has lost the order of 20 jets from Eastern Airlines, and Bjorn has confirmed that two large orders totaling 150 jets are in jeopardy.

    Not looking good, Mitsubishi! Not looking good!

        • Eastern had no business ordering the airplane in the first place. I never thought the orders would be delivered.

        • Thank you, Eduardo.

          Let’s hope their CDR is successful. The only way Mitsubishi may be able to prevent Skywest from canceling their order is to invite them to attend it and demonstrate they have identified and addressed all key customer, product, production, certification, operations, and maintenance requirements for a full-up MRJ90 aircraft (i.e., equipped with a cabin interior).

          Oh, and at this point, very curious about how many cert plans, test plans, issue papers, CRIs, special conditions papers, test reports, manuals, and ICAs have been identified, written, approved, and released by Mitsubishi? Key documents, as you know, for obtaining a TC.

          A scrum burndown chart capturing the above documents should clearly tell us how well they’re doing and if they can meet their June 2020 delivery date for the MRJ90.

          • We are hoping too, but many of the documents you mentioned do not need to be completed by CDR, but certainly to have reached a certain maturity level. The cert plan is incomplete and there is still no integrated master schedule, so take a guess…. shakeup of management is long overdue.

          • Those TC documents that you have mentioned Josh are under AeroTec’s control. According to my inside sources, AeroTec has not made much progress on them. Some of the drafts prepared by AeroTec are just sitting on the corporate server not being touched at all, largely due to one of their cert plans being rejected by JCAB. That group has relinquished that task away from AeroTec to their Cert Team in Nagoya.

          • Thanks again, Eduardo. Wow, just wow.

            Let’s hope AeroTEC and Mitsubishi have already pressed the “panic button” and are working 24/7/365 to get the required TC documents released. As you know, it can take up to two years for JCAB, FAA, and EASA to approve (independently) the TC documents after they’re released.

            Unfortunately, adding more people to the program, shuffling existing team members around, or creating a mega-organization structure as we’ve recently learned isn’t going to solve this particular problem. Having the right, verified talent in place under a lean organization structure will.

            They are fast running out of time before the next customer cancels their order. I really hope they pull through and announce something positive in the next month or so. Best of all, hoping Bjorn won’t have to write another article, titled “Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation’s Tough 2018.”

  20. Here is what US airline Skywest says about their 200 MRJ airplane order. In jeopardy for sure! :

    “Our order for MRJ aircraft with Mitsubishi is contingent upon one of our major airline partners giving us a contract award specifically for the MRJ aircraft. As a long term shareholder of Skywest, you’re likely seen our various announcements over the last several years for new regional aircraft by Embraer. To the extent Mitsubishi has ongoing delays with the MRJ aircraft, we anticipate continuing what we’ve done over the last couple of years- place orders with other manufacturers.

    Eric Woodward
    Chief Accounting Officer
    Skywest, Inc

      • Josh,

        We saw that Skywest letter by the exec sent by email circulated to concerned shareholders of Skywest. Anyone can contact him directly to verify, with special encouragement to media (Bjorn).

  21. The development of this jet should have been jointly done with US industry or other Japanese majors. MHI and Japan govt’s lack of vision and understanding of the complexity of commercial aircraft will end up costing them time, money, and reputation. The CEO lacks vision and the ability to steer this to success. Airbus learned from Boeing and Douglas and collaboration in Europe.