Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Suspends SpaceJet Development

MHI SpaceJet
Credit: Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has suspended development of the SpaceJet for more than three years, allocating only enough resources to proceed with type-certificate documentation.

Eventually restarting the program is a possibility, the conglomerate said on Oct. 30 in discussing a medium-term business plan, notably leaving open the possibility that the protracted regional-jet program—formerly called the MRJ—ultimately could be abandoned.

Meanwhile MHI aims at increasing automation in its civil aerostructures business while awaiting a recovery in commercial aircraft demand that it expects during or after its fiscal year beginning April 2024. 

Also on Oct. 30, MHI signed a contract to develop the F-X fighter, which Japan plans to introduce into service in the 2030s.

The major strategy change in the medium-term plan is related to the SpaceJet, which has been a project of MHI subsidiary Mitsubishi Aircraft.

“Given current development status and market conditions, we have no choice but to temporarily pause the majority of SpaceJet activities, except for TC [type certificate] documentation,” MHI said. “We will work to review where we stand, make improvements, and assess a possible program restart.”

MHI mentioned no possibility of restarting SpaceJet development during the term the fiscal 2021-23 business plan.

Instead, it estimated ¥120 billion ($1.15 billion) would be saved by “SpaceJet cost minimization” during the three years, contributing strongly to a ¥280 billion profit forecast for the period.

The company did not comment on the challenge of reviving SpaceJet work after reduction of the program’s engineering force to just those personnel attending to documentation for type certification.

Since May, when Mitsubishi Aircraft decided to mothball its SpaceJet flight-testing operation, the subsidiary has been preparing for eventually putting prototypes back in the air. This particularly has included engineering review of flight-test data, with the aim of ensuring Mitsubishi Aircraft would be prepared to build the most efficient plan to achieve type certification.

This appears to be the majority of the work that has now been abandoned. 

The move raises the question of how Mitsubishi Aircraft will restart an aircraft development program after cutting its engineering force to a minimum.

MHI nonetheless plans to expand its commercial aircraft business, which is based on making major assemblies for foreign manufacturers, especially Boeing. MHI is also looking toward participation in future commercial aircraft programs.

“In preparation for market recovery expected from 2024, MHI will increase production efficiency and drive forward new technology development to participate in future global aircraft programs,” it said in relation to this business.

MHI in 2020 bought the support but not manufacturing parts of Bombardier’s CRJ business. In its business outlook, MHI referred to the CRJ maintenance business as resilient. 

The conglomerate expects revenue of ¥3.7 trillion in fiscal 2020 and ¥4 trillion in fiscal 2023. In seeking growth, it is looking not toward commercial aeronautics but to such businesses as new energy sources and cybersecurity.

MHI launched development of the SpaceJet in 2008 as the MRJ. The engine for the type is the Pratt & Whitney PW1200G.

Bradley Perrett

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