A surprise yearlong delay in the delivery date of Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Regional Jet won’t derail plans to create hundreds of jobs in Washington, according to the head of the Japanese company’s local engineering partner.
A surprise yearlong delay in the delivery schedule of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.’s regional jet won’t derail plans to create hundreds of jobs in Washington, according to the head of the Japanese company’s local engineering partner.
In August, Mitsubishi and local partner AeroTec said employment at an engineering center in Georgetown for key testing and certification work would double to 150 jobs in 2016.
The companies also doubled to about 200 their estimate for the number of people to work at Moses Lake, where the Mitsubishi regional jet, known as the MRJ, is slated to conduct extensive flight testing.
Thursday’s announcement that Mitsubishi has identified “several issues” that will delay its first delivery by a year won’t affect the work here, said AeroTec CEO Lee Human.
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“There will be no impact to the preparations in Seattle and Moses Lake,” Human said in an interview. “No change in timeline for those.”
Testing in the U.S. was supposed to start in the first half of 2016, with delivery expected by mid-2017, but now Mitsubishi says the flight-test work in Washington will start toward the end of next year, with delivery in 2018.
Senior Executive Vice President Nobuo Kishi said at a news conference in Nagoya, Japan, that Mitsubishi Aircraft plans to strengthen the jet’s frame and upgrade software.
“Our initial expectations were too optimistic,” Kishi said. “We found that things that we expected to take 10 days to do took 15 days. Tests that we thought we could do 20 times took 40.”
Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto said the plane’s frame had passed strength tests for normal use, but there were concerns it wouldn’t pass certification tests that check whether the frame can withstand 150 percent of normal use.
“This is Japan’s first new passenger plane in 50 years and on paper everything looked fine,” he told reporters. “However, when we built it we found places to improve that we hadn’t banked on.”
Mitsubishi Aircraft has received 407 orders, including options and purchase rights, for its two types of planes, which seat from 78 to 92 passengers.
It’s the fourth delay in bringing the jet to market, according to Bloomberg News.
The delay is likely to make the U.S. side of the certification program more important, says Scott Hamilton, an Issaquah-based aviation analyst with Leeham.net.
“The Seattle engineering center is undoubtedly trying to work the problem along with their Japanese partners,” Hamilton said. “When you have a situation like this it’s all hands on deck.”
More troublesome for Mitsubishi is the prospect that lengthy delays could send potential customers shopping elsewhere. A big chunk of the firm orders comes from three U.S. regional airlines, among them SkyWest and Trans States Airlines, Hamilton said. They could go buy similar regional jets from Brazil’s Embraer, for example.
SkyWest, which has ordered 100 MRJs, is the biggest customer. In an emailed statement, spokeswoman Marissa Snow said SkyWest’s orders “remain unchanged, and are dependent on flying contracts, scope and aircraft availability.”
ANA, Japan’s largest airline, said that “whilst this latest delay is very disappointing, we remain confident of the benefits the MRJ will bring to the ANA fleet.”
Japan’s last homegrown passenger plane was the YS-11, a turboprop made by Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing, a consortium that included Mitsubishi Heavy, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries. Only 182 were sold, and the production line was stopped in 1974 after little more than a decade.
The MRJ will use a geared turbofan engine built by United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney unit, which is expected to make the jets at least 20 percent more fuel-efficient than similar planes, the company has said.
Mitsubishi Aircraft estimates the cost of developing the MRJ at about $1.5 billion. The 92-seat MRJ90 has a list price of $47.3 million.