Mitsubishi Aircraft and suppliers are considering a faster production ramp-up and higher build rates for the regional jet to compensate for program delays and anticipated demand.
The MRJ is already up to two years late. Originally scheduled for entry-into-service at the end of next year, the program initially was delayed to the first quarter of 2014 and now is promised for the second half of the Japanese fiscal year 2015, which could be as late as March 31, 2016.
The delay is the result of incomplete documentation for the MRJ’s manufacturing process and engineering analysis. The mistake, announced in April, requires new parts to be made and the checking of documents against production process specifications.
Completing these tasks and starting production are the biggest challenges facing the program, says Hirohide Takaseki, director of strategic planning in the project management office, and Mitsubishi Aircraft has hired additional engineers and seconded more from other manufacturers, which Takaseki would not name.
Mitsubishi Aircraft also has established the project management office to promote communication and cooperation between its various engineering divisions.
But there were other issues with the MRJ program, says Takaseki, noting that the project team had fallen behind in detailed airframe design. That work was completed by the time by the time the delay was announced. From here on, the company expects only normal refinement of the design as it builds and tests the initial units. The first flight is due in the last quarter of 2013.
Despite the longer development period, the company says it still aims to complete MRJ development within the original ¥180 billion ($2.3 billion) budget. Customers have told Mitsubishi Aircraft that there must be no further delays.
Mitsubishi Aircraft has not fully detailed its MRJ production plan, although it said the maximum would be five aircraft a month. But now, according to Takaseki, the airframer would like to achieve that rate sooner than planned and then increase it further to a new, unstated maximum.
The revised production strategy indicates that Mitsubishi Aircraft expects more sales, and the backlog will be increased considerably when U.S. regional SkyWest firms an agreement in principle for 100 MRJs announced in July at the Farnborough air show. That order is expected at the end of the year.
According to Takaseki, the SkyWest deal has increased interest in the MRJ program, even from North American mainline carriers.
[Editor’s note: This version corrects details about the completion of the detailed design work.]