Mitsubishi Halts All SpaceJet Flying, Production Winding Down To Zero

Credit: Mitsubishi Aircraft

The Mitsubishi Aircraft SpaceJet program has halted all flight testing worldwide and is winding down production to zero.

The company said it must first meet cost targets and then work out a plan to get a type certificate (TC). Only after the regional jet is declared airworthy will the resumption of manufacturing be considered.

Staffing at the home of the program in Nagoya, Japan, will be reduced, Mitsubishi Aircraft said, briefly outlining its plans to Aviation Daily.

Despite the retrenchment of development, Mitsubishi Aircraft majority owner Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) completed on June 1 its purchase of the Bombardier CRJ program, the likely foundation of future SpaceJet maintenance and marketing. The CRJ business is now called MHI RJ Aviation Group; it does not include CRJ manufacturing facilities.

The most recent official outlook for first delivery of the SpaceJet has been no earlier than April 2021, but it is now clear that even Mitsubishi Aircraft does not know when launch operator All Nippon Airways will get its first of the type.

MHI, also the SpaceJet’s airframe manufacturing contractor, had built six prototypes by March, of which five conformed to an original design that program managers realized in 2016 was not certifiable. Four of those five are at Moses Lake, Washington, where flight testing stopped in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the two other prototypes, both at Nagoya, one is the crucial sixth unit, which conforms to the certifiable, updated design and is the main aircraft for the remainder of flight testing. When Mitsubishi Aircraft said on May 25 that the Moses Lake operation was being reduced to preserve the aircraft there, it said nothing about flight testing at Nagoya.

But Nagoya flight testing has also been halted as a measure to control costs, the company said in written answers to Aviation Daily questions on June 2. The sixth prototype, called FTV10, will stay there, it added.

“There is a possibility that flight testing will begin again in Japan, but [there are] no specific plans yet for resumption of flight-test activities,” the company said. The “focus is still on cost control and meeting the budget directives. Once those have been reached, the company will begin rebuilding the plan to reach TC in this new environment.”

Announcing its financial results for the year to March 31, MHI said on May 11 it would set an appropriate budget for the program, considering the group’s financial headwinds.

Mitsubishi Aircraft did not directly answer a question as to whether and when flight testing at Moses Lake would resume.

In mid-March, the seventh and eighth SpaceJets—of the same design standard as the sixth—were in the final stages of production. The seventh has now been completed and work is continuing on the eighth, the company said.

Production work on other SpaceJets has been halted—again, as a cost-control measure. There will be no manufacturing activity in the program at all once the eighth aircraft is ready.

“We will revisit the decision on production after we achieve TC and after a thorough evaluation of the new state of the aviation industry,” the company said.

Japanese media last month variously reported that SpaceJet production was merely being reduced or that it had stopped only because of delays in receiving parts.

Asked about the size of the development team at Nagoya, the company said: “There will be impact to our teams in Nagoya, but plans are still in the final stages of evaluation.”

On May 11, MHI said it had dropped development of the smaller of the two SpaceJet versions, the M100, which was tailored for the U.S. market. The first version to be certified, someday, will be the M90, which is designed to seat 88 passengers in an all-economy arrangement.

The program was launched in 2008, when the type was called the MRJ. SpaceJet losses, which drove MHI into the red in fiscal 2019, are expected to fully offset profits from other activities in the sprawling industrial group in fiscal 2020.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the first six aircraft were delivered by March.

Bradley Perrett

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