Mitsubishi’s M90 faces delay amid elaborate certification

By Bjorn Fehrm

October 23, 2019, ©. Leeham News: The Japanese News agency Nikkei writes the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation might announce a further delay to the delivery of the first M90 SpaceJet (previously the MRJ90). This time it’s the risk the first delivery to ANA, All Nippon Airways might slip out of 2020 and into 2021.

It’s the certification of the new jet which is requiring more time than expected as the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, JCAB, is going about the certification work with typical Japanese thoroughness.

The first certification of an airliner in 50 years

We visited the European Regions Airline Associations’ conference in Antibes earlier in the month. Mitsubishi presented the status of the SpaceJet program in a media briefing. It was making solid progress in the certification but the progress together with JCAB to certify the aircraft was characterized as “a lot of work”.

I could talk to Mitsubishi executives on the sidelines of the conference to learn what was behind the “lot of work” characterization. JCAB is certifying its first civil airliner since the YS11 project of the 1960s. While supported by FAA, the responsibility and decisions are all JCAB’s. It’s then natural the JCAB will be careful not to make any mistakes, especially in the wake of what happened to the Boeing 737 MAX certification.

When the revised SpaceJet management made the latest delay announcement in January 2017, caused by needed safety-related design changes, the time plan for delivery to ANA by mid-2020 was based on their experience from recent certifications. They also put in ample buffers for unforeseen events they told me at the time.

But the work practices of JCAB is more thorough and elaborate than those of Transport Canada or FAA. So, their planning assumptions based on these certifications were only partly applicable.

Having experienced the Japanese work culture in my career I know you can’t change the road to progress when working in a joint project. You just accept the Japanese way and let things take more time. In the end the result gains, every detail is analyzed meticulously. But it’s a “lot of work” experience.

Having talked to the Mitsubishi team in 2017 and now, I understand the above is the problem more than any new technical or other issues. As Mitsubishi announces a possible sixth delay we will learn more.

14 Comments on “Mitsubishi’s M90 faces delay amid elaborate certification

  1. Knowing the standards of engineering the Japanese are readily capable of, I strongly suspect that these are going to be amongst the best built planes in the sky.

    55 years of Bullet train operations have resulted in no accidents. They know how to do things properly. It doesn’t stop them overdoing things sometimes; recently a problem emerged with some shinkansen trains; welds on parts of the boggies had been ground down to a perfect finish, but unwittingly took away too much metal and left the joint weaker than spec, and they cracked. Fortunately, no harm was done, and the problem was easily rectified, but a train was delayed.

    • “I strongly suspect that these are going to be amongst the best built planes in the sky.” It should be considering the delay after delay in bringing it to service. This has to be the most delayed enter into service of any airliner.

      • It’s certainly taking a while, but as I understand it from Scott’s articles they’ve got lucky and it’ll be well positioned in the market simply because everyone else has got things wrong or bailed out.

        Thing is that it’s genuinely worth getting things properly right. From reading extensive commentary on the recent pickle fork problem on the NG it sounds like various other bits of that airframe also crack (less dangerously) as a matter of course. Whilst it’s not a big operational deal, it still requires time out of service and repair. Get it all right though, do a supremely thorough job and you’d end up with an aircraft that won’t have such problems. So when you launch your next aircraft on the market your existing customers are already very happy. That’s got to be worth it.

        That sort of thinking doesn’t help the earlier management though. They’re grafting for someone else’s benefit.

      • Probably a dead heat between the MRJ and the Comac ARJ21 and C919.

        No idea how you’d recover $8B worth of wasted development funding on a regional jet, particularly one that’s wildly over it’s mass budget, has no logistics and support network, and is facing competition from multiple state owned or state subsidised competitors.

        • Hi Chris – small comment here. The $8B will never have been wasted. MHI are playing catchup in the civil aviation market, and there were an awful lot of ‘lessons to be learned’ that they had to learn the hard/expensive way. They did not have the closet full of technical knowledge/expertise to draw on that the older, more established manufacturers take for granted. I’m betting that their next venture into the civil aviation market will be a lot faster to bring to market, much more efficiently designed, and much more economical as a project to bring to a successful conclusion.

  2. The Japanese have their own history of certification scandals within civil aviation; anyone remember Koito Industries and their passenger seats?

    They were, and to my knowledge still are, banned by both Boeing and Airbus from their aircraft.

  3. Nuclear power plant in Fukushima was properly designed … the accident was caused by a very powerfull tsunami … flood came so high that pumps and other equipments were drowned
    Seats from Koito are now made /designed by another company who rescued Koito … these equipments are baught by airlines not B or A

  4. High leadership turnover — “Retirements” as Mitsubishi calls it — and a forthcoming 6th aircraft certification delay are clear signs that Mitsubishi’s regional jets will not be ready for delivery any time soon.

    The above and current certification challenges suggest the M90/M100 will not be certified nor delivered by 2021 — nor will sales improve — until the following questions are answered:

    (1) Is Mitsubishi’s leadership directly involved in overseeing the certification of its aircraft? If yes, do they have certification experience and are they asking the right questions?

    (2) Does Mitsubishi (and its Customer Service Centers) have an action plan in place to address Airworthiness Directives that could be released soon before/soon after the target certification date?

    (3) Does Mitsubishi have an efficient customer service lifeline ready to support in-service aircraft?

    (4) Is Mitsubishi prepared to pay for airline costs associated with aircraft “out-of-service” conditions caused by design/build deficiencies?

    (5) Are Mitsubishi’s in-house manufacturing centers and suppliers ready to support — on short notice — any design changes dictated by FAA, EASA, or JCAB rulings?

    (6) Has Mitsubishi leadership shared (in gross detail and upon request) their program certification schedule and list of current certification issues with its customers? At this point, transparency is key to ensure current customers stay on-board.

    (7) Does Mitsubishi have a risk mitigation plan in place covering all possible set-back scenarios that could further affect their certification program? If so, has it been properly validated? Has it been reviewed and approved by leadership?

    (8) Does Mitsubishi have an SMS in place?

    (9) Program development and certification costs now stand at approximately 700 Billion Yen (6.5 Billion USD) and growing. While MHI (the parent company of Mitsubishi Aircraft) has “deep financial pockets,” are these program costs – and future expenses – truly sustainable? If not, what can we say about the future survival of the M90/M100? How much funding is available for these programs? Will these aircraft become the YS-11’s next of kin?

    (10) How many program delays is Mitsubishi willing to accept (currently, 6) before it starts losing face? Has Mitsubishi already reached this point?
    No Face = No Credibility = No Sales.

    (11) Last, but not the least, what can we say about an aircraft that has been on the drawing board — for all practical matters — since 2008? By the time the aircraft is certified, will it be compliant with the latest regulatory requirements or will it be lagging them? Will it offer the latest cockpit/cabin comforts and technology that both crew members and passengers expect? Will these aircraft truly be able to compete with Embraer’s E-Jet aircraft?

    For Mitsubishi, failure is not option. We get it. The question is, at what cost? 7+ Billion US Dollars to develop and certify an aircraft that may be on the market for only 10-20 years is something that deserves careful attention and, quite frankly, gutsy leaders that know how and when to cut their losses.

    May the force be with you.

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