(Nikkei: October 24, 2015 – p. 11)
By Yoshifumi Uesaka
On Oct. 23, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (Toyoyama-cho, Aichi Prefecture) announced it would push back the inaugural flight of its Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) from Oct. 26–30 to Nov. 9–13. The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, if approved, will be the first Japanese-developed passenger jet. This is the fifth time the MRJ’s maiden flight has been delayed. The most recent postponement was for the repair of a component in the aircraft’s steering. Mitsubishi Aircraft said that the MRJ could have made its maiden flight without the repair, but it decided to stress within the company the priority on safety of the aircraft and also its degree of perfection.
The postponement reveals that the company was unrealistic in the final stages before the maiden voyage of this aircraft in which it has invested so much.
Nagoya Airport (Toyoyama-cho), which is operated by Aichi Prefecture, will be used for the takeoff and landing of the MRJ’s first flight. “The [airport’s] observation deck will be closed from Oct. 25 through Nov. 1,” it was announced on Oct. 22, the day before Mitsubishi Aircraft delayed the flight. The announcement was aimed at preventing overcrowding and accidents that could arise from a crush of airplane fans. The postponement rendered the closure irrelevant.
The delay in the flight is due to the repair of a component in the steering pedal in the cockpit. Stepping on the pedal moves the rudder, which is on the rear portion of the vertical tail. The plane is steered by turning the rudder to the left and right. The pedal mechanism will be repaired to widen the range of motion, it is said.
The developers want to widen the range of motion because, in the event that one of the two engines stops due to bad weather during flight, it is easier to stabilize the tilt of the aircraft if the rudder’s range of motion is wide.
This repair, however, “does not need to be done before the maiden flight,” says Mitsubishi Aircraft, because the maiden flight is designed to check the basic functions of flight, takeoff, and landing on a clear day and is not done on a rainy day.
For this reason, the repair had been scheduled to be done after the maiden flight, but at the last minute there emerged within the company the view that “it would be safer to fix the rudder before the maiden flight.” Lack of advance communication among the people involved in the project disappointed airline companies and others who had been looking forward to the MRJ’s first flight.
When Mitsubishi Aircraft announced the fourth postponement of the maiden flight in April, it explained, “To reduce the number of repairs after the first flight, we have placed priority on making the aircraft as complete as possible.” Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto, who in April had been sent from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (Mitsubishi Aircraft’s parent company) to oversee the development team, said, “The MRJ will fly in October.” He cannot escape criticism for the fact that the members of the development team were not working together to meet the target.
The maiden flight for the MRJ was originally set for 2011, but has been repeatedly postponed due to design and manufacturing schedule reviews. The October postponement pushes the maiden flight back by about two weeks. It is said that this will not impact the schedule for the acquisition of the type certificate in spring 2017 or the first delivery of the jet to ANA Holdings, in April–June 2017, because it is not an equipment or systems problem.
The MRJ is set to undergo a preflight check by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism on Oct. 26–30 to gain flight approval. After the approval, there will be high-speed taxiing tests in preparations for the MRJ’s first flight. Mitsubishi Aircraft said it will bring the plane to a state where “it could have its maiden flight at any time.”
Mitsubishi Aircraft Senior Executive Vice President Nobuo Kishi, who heads the development team, did not hesitate to say, “It would not be surprising if something unexpected were to happen.” This time the problem was insignificant, but not knowing where a problem might be lurking comes with the territory in airplane development. This is even truer for newcomers to the industry like Mitsubishi Aircraft. The birth pangs will continue.