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Mitsubishi places 'temporary pause' on SpaceJet program

by CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE
Staff Writer | November 11, 2020 1:00 AM

By CHARLES H. FEATHERSTONE

Staff Writer

TOKYO — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced in late October that the company is halting all development on the SpaceJet regional passenger jet and is considering what to do with its Moses Lake flight test center.

“Given current development status and market conditions, we have no choice but to temporarily pause the majority of SpaceJet activities,” said Mitsubishi President and CEO Seiji Izumisawa during a presentation Oct. 30 of the company’s 2021 Medium-Term Business Plan. “We will work to review where we stand, make improvements, and assess a possible program restart.”

In the presentation, Izumisawa said that while the company’s long-term goal is to expand its commercial aircraft business, in the short term Mitsubishi will “minimize SpaceJet costs” in order to help the company recover from the decline in revenue and profits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the significant money invested in the oft-delayed SpaceJet program.

According to Jeff Dronen, a spokesperson for Mitsubishi Aircraft, the company has again cut the program’s budget and has halted all SpaceJet flight testing.

“We don’t have exact numbers on the budget yet, but obviously within these conditions, we are considering the viability of our flight test center in the United States,” Dronen wrote in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

Mitsubishi established its flight testing center for the SpaceJet in Moses Lake, employing at its peak over 450 people. In June, the company announced it was relocating all flight test operations back to Japan, and closing its U.S. subsidiary. The four SpaceJet aircraft were grounded in Moses Lake and are currently maintained by a small residual staff.

“Over the next couple of weeks our teams will be evaluating the full impact of the temporary pause and the additional directions” from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Dronen wrote, adding that the company expects to know more about the effects on employees and suppliers by the end of November.

The SpaceJet, a medium-range aircraft designed to carry roughly 100 passengers, is Japan’s first indigenously designed and built airliner since the 1960s. In addition to the SpaceJet, Mitsubishi subsidiaries build components for Boeing 737, 777 and 787 passenger jets, a series of civilian jet engines, a Japanese version of the F-15 fighter-bomber, and an indigenous fighter jet for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force derived heavily from the U.S.-built F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Earlier this year, Mitsubishi also completed a $550 million deal to buy the Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ) production line and facilities from Canada-based aircraft maker Bombardier.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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Charles H. Featherstone

Mitsubishi's SpaceJet regional jet in the livery of Japan's All-Nippon Airways on the ramp of the Grant County International Airport in January, 2019.

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Charles H. Featherstone

Mitsubishi's SpaceJet regional jet in the livery of Japan's All-Nippon Airways on the ramp of the Grant County International Airport in January, 2019.