September 09, 2013
Credit: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
In Asia, as elsewhere, aerospace managers repeatedly stress airworthiness certification among the top challenges of moving into commercial aircraft production. As if to prove the point, Mitsubishi Aircraft has now twice skidded on the certification banana peel in its effort to develop Japan's first airliner since the 1960s, the MRJ regional jet.
The cause of the latest delay to the program has been dealt with, Mitsubishi Aircraft says, predicting only the usual challenges as the development effort moves toward its new first-delivery target, early 2017.
The reason for the timing of the company's delay announcement on Aug. 22—only months before the previously scheduled first flight—remains unclear, especially since the Mitsubishi Aircraft team has been working on the issue, obtaining permission to perform certification processes, since 2009 and completed it almost a year ago. The task evolved over time, says the company.
Despite the delay, the orderbook, for 165 aircraft, is not likely to suffer cancellations, says Yuko Fukuhara, the project's head of sales.
Mitsubishi Aircraft has begun making six MRJ airframes, five for flight-test aircraft and one for static ground testing. For the most advanced airframe, that of the first prototype, 90% of the parts have been made and fuselage sections are to be joined “in the near future,” says the company. Final assembly of the whole aircraft is due in the northern fall. The first Pratt & Whitney PW1217G engines will arrive in spring and first flight should now take place in the second quarter of 2015.
Major shareholder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is building the airframe for the aircraft, which will have standard seating for 92 and 78 passengers in two versions.
The latest delay to the MRJ extends development to nine years from the originally planned five years, nine months. Its cause, not previously detailed, stems from 2009, Fukuhara told reporters in a conference call on Aug. 30. In that year Mitsubishi Aircraft learned that it needed company-wide organization delegation authorization (ODA), under which it would act on behalf of the certifying authority in the more routine aspects of approving designs and ensuring airworthiness standards. Mitsubishi Aircraft believes the MRJ program is the first to be fully covered by the ODA system.