What Is The Fate Of Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet Program?

taxiing aircraft
Credit: Mitsubishi Aircraft

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What is the fate of Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet? Do you expect any possibility for the company to keep and relaunch the M100 aircraft after the suspension of its development?

Bradley Perrett, Aviation Week’s Beijing Bureau Chief, responds:

Probably the best way to consider the outlook for the SpaceJet is to interpret the decisions of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which has the most at stake and, as the majority owner of Mitsubishi Aircraft, calls the shots. The conclusion is that MHI thinks it will have a viable product but cannot afford and maybe does not need to get it ready as soon as possible. Indeed, since you posed your questions, Mitsubishi Aircraft has confirmed its commitment to achieving SpaceJet certification.

MHI is a big company that fully or partly owns operations building things as diverse as tunneling machines, cruise ships, air conditioners, space launchers and nuclear power equipment. Revenue in the year to March 2020 was about ¥4 trillion ($37 billion)—and the SpaceJet program singlehandedly drove the group into loss, more than offsetting profits from all the other divisions.

Now, along comes the COVID-19 pandemic: The whole group faces challenges and the SpaceJet, falling ever further behind schedule, has a much more distant market. So MHI has more or less furloughed the program. But it is still spending a little, on its design team at Nagoya and on preserving the prototypes there and at Moses Lake, Washington. If MHI didn’t think the SpaceJet had a future, it would just scrap the lot.

But group priorities are coming first. As Mitsubishi Aircraft told Aviation Week, the first issue is meeting MHI’s budget targets; achieving certification is only secondary to that. And production? Well, they’ll see what the market is like when they get the type certificate. MHI’s decision in early May to go ahead with its acquisition of the CRJ program from Bombardier (not including factories) is stronger evidence of the group’s expectation that the SpaceJet program will turn an operating profit one day.

And what about the M100, the version designed for the U.S. market? It still has the considerable advantage of being tailored to squeeze the most capability out of the weight limit imposed by scope clauses—terms in major U.S. airlines’ pilot contracts that limit the size of aircraft used by outsource airlines.

Embraer has no such product. If the scope clauses stay and Embraer does not rapidly create a similarly sized aircraft, presumably basing it on the E175-E2, then developing the M100 must be an attractive prospect for MHI—when the money is available. This report tells how Mitsubishi Aircraft says it is committed to the SpaceJet—but not to flying it for the time being. Listen here as Aviation Week editors discuss its prospects in a Check 6 podcast.

Bradley Perrett

Bradley Perrett covered China, Japan, South Korea and Australia. He is a Mandarin-speaking Australian.