The first Japanese airliner was the YS-11 turboprop, sold in small numbers in the 1960s and 1970s. The MRJ, for Mitsubishi Regional Jet, is the first attempt to enter the airliner jet market for Japanese aeronautical industry.
The MRJ regional airliner project started 2008 with a plan for Entry Into Service (EIS) by 2013. Japan’s ANA was the launch customer. By 2010, the EIS had moved to 2014, then it was moved to 2017 and 2018. After a third party Certification audit in the autumn of 2016, the fifth delay to 2020 was announced January 2017.
The audit found the aircraft as flight-tested since 2015 would not pass certification. Avionics and system boxes placed around the wing would not pass redundancy criteria for water ingress, bomb blast or engine rotor/tire burst. Boxes had to be redesigned, placed elsewhere and the wiring and how it was routed in the aircraft had to be changed.
It was not possible to modify the existing four flight test aircraft for compliance, so two more, numbers seven and 10, were reassigned from customers delivery to test aircraft for the final compliance tests for damage and radiation. Number seven, which is the first serial aircraft for delivery to ANA, will also be used for functional and reliability tests, operational evaluations and customer work. The 10th aircraft is test instrumented and will be used for avionics qualification with a serial conformant configuration.
After presenting the changes to the JDAC and FFA, the MRJ is now ripe for formal inspections by the authorities.
“With little precedence for a program of this type in Japan the teams have worked together tirelessly to establish a flight test compliance system from the ground up,” said Andrew Telesca, Head of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation’s Certification Management Office, in a press release the 21st of December. “I am proud of the substantial efforts made by the JCAB and MITAC teams to achieve this critical milestone. While much work remains to reach Type Certification, we’re excited to have completed a key demonstration of the safety and maturity of the MRJ program and look forward to working closely with the JCAB during this critical final program phase.”
Telesca also stated the program is undergoing a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety review to support the FAA’s Letter of Authorization, which he expects prior to the start of certification flight testing early 2019.
With the authorization for Certification Flight tests, the MRJ program is on the final stretch. Since the last re-planning of the MRJ program, it has tracked to plan. The finish of Certification flight-testing is planned for 2019 and there are margins for unknown-unknowns, certification paperwork and delivery preparations. ANA should get its first aircraft, the number seven, by mid-2020.
With the US Scope Clauses staying unchanged, the MRJ90 is no longer the ideal MRJ model for a US market dominated by Scope Clause regulated regional flying. The MRJ90 is too heavy. When papered down to the maximum 86,000lb take-off weight (MTOW), its range is below 1,000nm.
The lighter MRJ70 is now the focus for the US market. It’s fine weight-wise, but its cabin is on the small side. In the preferred, two or three class cabins of the US Majors, the MRJ70 would seat less than 70 passengers. The scope limit is 76 seats.
Mitsubishi has said its working on improvements to increase the cabin capacity. The competing Embraer E175 and Bombardier CRJ900 seat 76 passengers in a three-class configuration.
MRJ numbers eight and nine are the MRJ70 test aircraft and Mitsubishi is looking at converting MRJ90 serial aircraft positions to increase the MRJ70 test aircraft fleet. It will be needed if the type shall enter service only a year behind the MRJ90.
MRJ90: Conduct the Certification test flights with the four + two added test aircraft at Moses Lake (WA). The ground-based number five is used for software release testing at the factory in Nagoya, Japan. Ideally, the Certification flights should be finished within the year so only paperwork and delivery preparations remain for 2020.
MRJ70: Finish the two MRJ70 prototypes while working on capacity improvements. To deliver aircraft in 2021, flight-testing should start in 2020 meaning all preparations should happen during 2019.