SEATTLE – Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. opened a U.S. facility Monday to advance the development of its regional jet, Japan’s first indigenously built small jet, by facilitating flight testing and analysis, starting next year.
“Our aim is to make the best use of the resources and skill set of aircraft experts and professionals of Seattle, which is a global hub of the aviation industry,” President Hiromichi Morimoto said at a ceremony held Monday in Seattle to officially inaugurate the Seattle Engineering Center.
Referring to the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the president stressed that the “MRJ is developed and made with the state of Washington and the United States.”
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, which also hosts aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co., said: “We are so proud to have MRJ to the list of aircraft we’ve helped to develop and bring to the world.”
“Ganbare!” he said, using a Japanese expression of encouragement to convey his enthusiasm for the center.
President Morimoto, meanwhile, said that his company is envisioning delivering 2,500 Mitsubishi Regional Jets in the next 20 years by overcoming a setback from delays in its flight tests and delivery schedule.
In an interview last week, Morimoto said Mitsubishi Aircraft “would like to garner around half” of the global market for small jets, which it estimates to total 5,190 planes in the period through 2034.
The market covers jets with 70-100 seats. The MRJ has a standard configuration of 76 or 88 seats.
So far, the company has received orders for 407 jets and is aiming to secure more. In Asia, Morimoto indicated that companies in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and India have expressed interest in the MRJ, with some “quite serious.”
In Europe, where no orders have been received for the MRJ, the president said negotiations are “underway with several parties” such as airlines and aircraft leasing companies.
In June, Morimoto traveled to France for the International Paris Air Show, one of the world’s largest aviation spectacles, to promote the MRJ, hoping to sign up more orders for the jet under development.
But he came home empty-handed, feeling frustrated that his firm’s chief competitor Embraer SA of Brazil had received a large volume of orders at the show.
“I grew to understand that if I were a client, I wouldn’t probably feel like buying one before (the aircraft) flies, no matter how hard sales pitches are made,” Morimoto said.
In April, the Japanese company announced a further delay — the fourth — in the MRJ development plan, pushing back the maiden flight of a test aircraft from late May in Japan to September or October.
But Mitsubishi Aircraft has not changed the schedule of the first delivery of the MRJ to All Nippon Airways Co. in the second quarter of 2017 as it expands its flight test program in the United States. The current delivery schedule, however, is already four years behind the initial plan for 2013.
Mitsubishi Aircraft has been struggling to overcome the void in technology and engineering know-how created in Japan by the more than 50-year gap since Japan ceased the postwar development of the YS-11, a domestically built turboprop passenger plane.
As Executive Vice President Masao Yamagami put it: “We are paying for not doing anything for half a century.”
The company will undertake about 70 percent of the flight testing totaling around 2,500 hours in the United States with a fleet of four jets, one more than initially planned.
For flight evaluation scheduled to start in the April-June quarter next year in the United States, the Seattle Engineering Center will be responsible for formulating test plans at an airport in the state of Washington and analyzing tests results.
It will also undertake paperwork for obtaining airworthiness certification in Japan, the United States and Europe.
The airport has a 4,000-meter runway and is known for clear weather conditions. Morimoto said “Japan is limited in terms of areas where tests can be conducted but (the Seattle facility) has less restrictions and is much (more) easy for us” to conduct tests. These U.S. tests will “hold the key to success,” he said.
The aircraft for the maiden flight scheduled in Japan for September or October will be the first to be used for U.S. tests, he said.
In the run-up to the start of these tests, the company said that the center will employ a staff of 100 to 150 Americans and 50 Japanese — mainly engineers with experience in the aviation business.
Tests involve takeoff and landings at high-altitude locations under various climate conditions such as extreme cold to check if engines and other major components function as designed.
“Flying itself is the most indisputable evidence for the perfection and maturity of the aircraft,” Morimoto said of the MRJ.