Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ long-struggling program to develop a new Japanese commercial jet, which until last spring employed hundreds in Washington state, has gone from the back burner to the freezer.
The SpaceJet program, including four jets brought to Moses Lake for test flights aimed at FAA certification, is suspended because the downturn in commercial aviation has deepened its challenges, the industrial giant said Friday in Japan.
While “expanding commercial aircraft business is MHI’s long-term goal,” the company said in a presentation posted online, “given current development status and market conditions, we have no choice but to temporarily pause the majority of SpaceJet activities.” Some work toward eventual certification will continue, it said.
The company’s Mitsubishi Aircraft unit in May sharply cut the program’s budget and closed its U.S. headquarters in Renton, leading to the layoff of hundreds of engineers there and at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake. The four jets were put into storage.
Friday’s presentation by MHI president and CEO Seiji Izumisawa indicates the company expects to save 120 billion yen ($1.1 billion) through the Spacejet program’s suspension, adding that “we will work to review where we stand, make improvements, and assess a possible program restart.”
The savings will be channeled into “growth areas” such as clean energy, cybersecurity and “new mobility and logistics.”
Separately, The Associated Press reported Friday that Japan has picked Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as a main contractor to develop the country’s own next-generation stealth fighter for launch in the 2030s.
The next-generation fighters, currently known as F-X, are part of Japan’s upgrading of its aging fighter jet fleet as the country builds up its military capability to counter growing threats from China and North Korea.
The next-generation stealth jet will replace F-2s that Japan co-developed with the U.S. Those are due to be retired around 2035. Japan’s Defense Ministry is seeking 58.7 billion yen ($556 million) in the 2021 budget for research into developing the aircraft.