Four MRJ90s landed in Moses Lake in Washington, US this November 2016 and have been operating test flights to obtain certifications for regional use. This is Japan’s first return to the commercial aviation market since the sixties, a logical step as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has been developing and manufacturing key components, for civil aircraft for many years. MHI’s production has been limited to parts such as wings and fuselages, however. Both MHI and Mitsubishi Automotive have presence in Mexico, so perhaps the participation of the country in their construction could tempt Mitsubishi to enter the local aerospace manufacturing market, diversifying their global brand and production.
The first MRJ will be delivered to All Nippon Airways toward the end of 2018. Mitsubishi’s newest innovation took off for the first time from the Nayoga Airfield in Japan on November 11, 2015. The test subjects have been brought to Moses Lake where the climate is more appropriate for testing purposes than Japan, according to Masao Yamagami, CEO of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation.
Mitsubishi has accumulated 250 of the 2,500 necessary flight hours to certify the MRJ. The four MRJ90s designated to the US and a fifth situated in Japan are working toward this goal. But the manufacturer is facing a weight problem. The regional airlines SkyWest Inc. and Trans States Holdings have ordered 100 and 50 aircraft respectively, but the MRJ does not yet meet the US stipulations on weight.
The MRJ in its longest-range derivative clocks in at 90,000lb, which is a problem for US airline pilots that tend to sign contracts with clauses that limit flying aircraft exceeding 86,000lb. Moreover, the seat limit is set at 76 seats and the MRJ can be configured with up to 90 seats. Yamagami has pointed out that the seat-count restriction has a solution. Configuring the MRJ90 with two classes drops the number of seats on board but the weight restrictions are still proving too difficult to get around.
“If the current 86,000-lb. The Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) restriction remains, our aircraft does not have enough range,” said Yamagami. “If we fill the aircraft with passengers, we cannot fill enough fuel for maximum range.”
This is neither a new problem, nor a lonely problem. The Corporation has reported issues with software with this fly-by-wire aircraft, and have placed more emphasis on solving these during the test flights or replacing the software altogether.
In the Japanese company’s bid for aviation market share, it hopes to sidle in on Bombardier and Embraer’s regional passenger transportation segment. The MRJ90s and 70s ordered will, hopefully, replace the Embraer 170 for the two US airlines. While no Mexican airlines have placed orders, Aeroméxico employs Bombardier CSeries models and Across México received 23 executive jets from Embraer. There is a market for MRJ purchases, as well as manufacturing components.
Sources: Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, Aviation Week, Transponder 1200.