And it underestimated the amount of effort involved in obtaining ODA from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, which locally instituted the FAA system to keep certification regulations internationally consistent. A key issue seems to be that achieving ODA is a once-only company effort. The company “was adopting the ODA-type system while our own program was also in development,” says a Mitsubishi Aircraft spokesman. “Therefore we had to handle both tasks at once.” Any later program by the company will rely on only updates to its ODA.
Still, it remains unclear why Mitsubishi Aircraft took until last month, more than five years after program launch and less than five months before its previous first-flight target, to announce that the ODA task, by then complete, had caused another delay of about 18 months. In 2009 Mitsubishi Aircraft delayed first delivery by about one quarter from the original target of late 2013 because of design changes. Last year it pushed the schedule out by an indefinite period—approximately a year and a half—because it discovered that it had not properly documented production processes for certification purposes. The ODA work was separate to that problem and ended in September 2012 when the authorization was received.
Delegation of aspects of certification work has a long history in aircraft certification, but the ODA system is more extensive than the traditional approach, demanding that a whole organization, not just certain individuals in it, show its competence and its procedural compliance. At the level of a type-certificate holder, such as Mitsubishi Aircraft, the organization must also ensure that its suppliers comply. Satisfied that the manufacturer can be trusted for routine activities, the government authority can devote more of its resources to high-level supervision.
Since the MRJ's ODA work is complete and the earlier problem of undocumented processes has been resolved, the program now has no hurdles except the usual challenges of moving through manufacturing to flight testing and certification, says Fukuhara.
Although Mitsubishi Aircraft appears not to have sought special assistance for its ODA work, Boeing has been an adviser to the program and the Japanese company has hired many foreign experts, especially former Boeing employees, to help it with such development challenges as relations with suppliers, ground tests, flight tests and certification.
Since MRJ development is now due to due to last so long, the program must be greatly exceeding its original budget. The increased cost of delays can be absorbed within the business case, however, says Fukuhara.
Employing engineers and facilities on the MRJ for more than one-and-one-half times the intended period is probably not the only source of a cost blowout. A manufacturer would normally have to compensate customers for late deliveries and, although Mitsubishi Aircraft will not comment on the issue, suppliers are typically entitled to compensation when certification is greatly delayed. The causes of the three delays do not appear to be the fault of any supplier.