Still Time For The SpaceJet?

regional jet prototype on runway
The first SpaceJet prototype, pictured here soon after arrival at Moses Lake, is no longer flying.
Credit: Mitsubishi Aircraft

When Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) launched its regional jet program in 2008 it faced a relatively crowded market.

This included two large incumbents--Embraer and Bombardier--a nascent Sukhoi Superjet program from Russia that was in flight tests, and China’s COMAC ARJ21.

Since then almost all competition has collapsed. Bombardier has divested all its commercial aircraft activities, the Superjet has flopped outside (and increasingly inside) Russia and the customer base for the ARJ21 is mainly state-owned Chinese carriers.

The last man standing with active aircraft is Embraer, currently reeling from an aborted takeover by Boeing of its commercial arm.

Despite these developments, prospects for the Mitsubishi SpaceJet don’t look any better than they did 12 years ago, when it was known as the Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

The havoc wrought on the airline industry by Covid-19 is one reason for this, but even before the pandemic the Japanese program was grappling with multiple delays and a limited orderbook.

In May this year Mitsubishi halted flight tests of its flagship M90 and suspended development of the smaller M100. A few months later MHI revealed that the SpaceJet program was responsible for almost all of the wider company’s JPY71 billion ($670 million) loss for the first half of 2020. 

Given these facts, it is tempting to ask why Mitsubishi has not scrapped the SpaceJet program altogether. One answer is that commercial considerations have become entangled and possibly subordinate to national strategic objectives - and pride.

“We are developing the first commercial jet for Japan,” a spokesperson for Mitsubishi Aircraft tell Inside MRO. “This is significant not only for our company, but also for our country.

Working closely with our business partners and the JCAB [Japan Civil Aviation Bureau], we are establishing the foundation for the commercial aviation industry in Japan.”

To find out more about how Mitsubishi Aircraft intends to develop the program, and why it may yet be in with a shot at redemption, look out for the next issue of Inside MRO.

Alex Derber

Alex Derber, a UK-based aviation journalist, is editor of the Engine Yearbook and a contributor to Aviation Week and Inside MRO.