The cause of the third delay to the program — getting delegation to perform certification processes — is now resolved, Mitsubishi Aircraft says, predicting only the usual challenges as the regional jet moves toward its new first-delivery target of early 2017.
The reason for the timing of the company’s delay announcement, only months before the previously scheduled first flight, remains unclear, especially since Mitsubishi Aircraft has been working on the certification-delegation issue since 2009 and completed it almost a year ago. The task evolved over time, the company says.
Despite the delay, the order book, for 165 aircraft, is not likely to suffer cancellations, says Yuko Fukuhara, the project’s head of sales.
Mitsubishi Aircraft has begun making six MRJ airframes, five for flight-test aircraft and one for static ground testing. For the most advanced airframe, that of the first prototype, 90% of parts have been made and fuselage sections are to be joined “in the near future,” the company says. Final assembly of the whole aircraft is due in the northern fall. The first Pratt & Whitney PW1217G engines will arrive in spring and first flight should now take place in the second quarter of 2015.
Major shareholderis building the airframe for the aircraft, which will have standard seating for 92 and 78 passengers in two versions.
The latest delay to the MRJ extends development to nine years from the originally planned five and three quarter years. Its cause, not previously detailed, stems from 2009, Fukuhara told reporters in a conference call on Aug. 30. In that year Mitsubishi Aircraft learned that it needed company-wide organization delegation authorization (ODA), under which it would act on behalf of the certifying authority in the more routine aspects of approving designs and ensuring airworthiness standards. Mitsubishi Aircraft believes the MRJ program is the first to be fully covered by the ODA system.
Mitsubishi also underestimated the amount of effort in getting ODA from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, which locally instituted thesystem to keep certification regulations internationally consistent. A key issue seems to be that achieving ODA is a once-only company effort. The company “was adopting the ODA-type system while our own program was also in development,” says a Mitsubishi Aircraft spokesman. “Therefore we had to handle both tasks at once.” Any later program by the company will rely on only updates to its ODA.
Still, it remains unclear why Mitsubishi Aircraft took until Aug. 22, more than five years after program launch and less than five months before its previous first-flight target, to announce that the ODA task, by then complete, had caused another delay of about 18 months. In 2009 Mitsubishi Aircraft delayed first delivery by about one quarter from the original target of late 2013 because of design changes. Last year it pushed the schedule out by an indefinite period—roughly a year and a half—because it found that it had not properly documented production processes. The ODA work was separate from that problem and ended in September 2012 when the authorization was received.
Delegation of aspects of certification work has a long history in aircraft certification, but the ODA system is more extensive than the traditional approach, demanding that a whole organization, not just certain individuals in it, show its competence and procedural compliance. At the level of a type-certificate holder, such as Mitsubishi Aircraft, the organization must also ensure that its suppliers comply. Satisfied that the manufacturer can be trusted for routine activities, the government authority can devote more of its resources to high-level supervision.
Since the MRJ’s ODA work is complete and the earlier problem of undocumented processes rectified, the program now has no hurdles except the usual challenges of moving through manufacturing to flight testing and certification, Fukuhara says.
Although Mitsubishi Aircraft appears not to have sought special assistance for its ODA work,has been an adviser to the program and the Japanese company has hired many foreign experts, especially ex-Boeing people, to help it with such development challenges as relations with suppliers, ground tests, flight tests, and certification.
Since MRJ development is now due to last so much longer, the program must be greatly exceeding its original budget. The increased cost of delays can be absorbed within the business case, however, Fukuhara says.
Employing engineers and facilities on the MRJ for almost twice the intended period is probably not the only source of a cost blowout. A manufacturer would normally have to compensate customers for late deliveries and, although Mitsubishi Aircraft will not comment on the issue, suppliers are typically entitled to compensation when certification is greatly delayed. The causes of the three delays do not appear to be the fault of any supplier.