Mitsubishi Scuttles the SpaceJet
Four of Mitsubishi Aircraft’s SpaceJets — initially known as the MRJ, or Mitsubishi Regional Jet — parked on the ramp of the Grant County International Airport in May 2020 during the test flight of MagniX’s all-electric Cessna Caravan. In early February, Mitsubishi Aircraft parent company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced it was ending development of the SpaceJet, citing both the complexity of the program and its cost.
Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | March 11, 2023 12:03 PM
TOKYO — Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced in February that it is ending its development of the SpaceJet regional jetliner and last week scuttled at least one of the planes housed in Moses Lake.
Near the end of a conference call reviewing the company’s earnings for the third fiscal quarter of 2022, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — parent company of Mitsubishi Aircraft — said it will discontinue the development of the regional jetliner citing both the cost and complexity of the program.
Mitsubishi did not properly understand how complicated it would be to certify a commercial passenger aircraft and did not have sufficient resources to continue development, the company said on the final slide in the earnings presentation. The company also said lack of progress on certification as well as the changing needs of the North American regional jet market made continuing development of the aircraft difficult.
The SpaceJet, previously known as the MRJ or Mitsubishi Regional Jet, was intended to carry roughly 100 passengers on shorter routes and would have been Japan’s first indigenously developed civilian passenger aircraft since the 1960s. The company paused development of the SpaceJet in 2020, citing the downturn in global aviation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the presentation, a Mitsubishi spokesperson said no additional information would be given about the end of the program. The company did not respond to a request for comment prior to press time.
Aircraft industry website FlightGlobal last week published a series of photos of one SpaceJet model being torn apart by heavy machinery at the Grant County International Airport. During the course of flight testing in Moses Lake, at least four SpaceJet aircraft were parked in an AeroTEC hangar at GCIA, though the fate of the other jets has currently not been disclosed.
Seattle-based AeroTEC ran the testing and certification program for Mitsubishi beginning in 2016 when the first SpaceJet arrived in Moses Lake. AeroTEC did not respond to requests for comment prior to press time.
The Port of Moses Lake also would not comment on the end of the program.
At one point, Mitsubishi Aircraft had nearly 500 employees in Moses Lake working on the SpaceJet program and even helped the Columbia Basin Job Corps Center set up a Japanese cuisine program for its culinary students to create lunch boxes for the company’s employees.
During the development of the SpaceJet, Mitsubishi was sued by Canadian regional jet maker Bombardier for poaching Bombardier employees and using proprietary information in an attempt to speed up the SpaceJet’s certification. Mitsubishi agreed to settle the suit in 2019 by purchasing Bombardier’s passenger jet division for $550 million, and in the earnings presentation, the company said it will focus on production of Bombardier’s CRJ family of regional jets.
In the earnings presentation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries highlighted the accomplishments of the SpaceJet program. The company said it logged nearly 4,000 flight hours without any safety issues and has learned a great deal that can be applied to future aircraft, such as the F-X program to produce Japan’s next fighter jet. Mitsubishi will also keep, and hopes to utilize, its full-scale aircraft production facility in Nagoya, the presentation noted.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org