Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. announced that it would postpone the first delivery of its small jet plane, the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, which was scheduled for mid-2020, until fiscal 2021 or later.
The company decided on the project in 2008, and initially aimed to start delivery in 2013. This is the sixth time that its delivery has been postponed. It is regrettable that the jet’s commercialization has had such rough going.
Test plane flights have been conducted in the United States and their flight time exceeds 3,500 hours. However, the process for design changes caused by reviewing the wiring has been prolonged.
As a result, the development of the final test plane has been delayed and the company has not acquired type certifications for the SpaceJet from the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.
Ensuring safety should be the top priority in aircraft development. The latest postponement is unavoidable as long as final confirmation has not been completed.
The SpaceJet is the first aircraft to be developed in Japan in half a century, since the public and private sectors worked together on the propeller plane YS-11.
The aircraft industry is linked to many other industries. The SpaceJet is made up of about 1 million parts, 30% of which are made in Japan. The government also provided ¥50 billion in subsidies to help nurture the parts industry and strengthen the foundation of manufacturing.
Global demand for aircraft is expected to expand, spurred by growth in emerging economies. In particular, demand for small planes such as the SpaceJet is estimated at about 5,000 planes over the next 20 years.
The two leaders in the industry — Airbus SE and Boeing Co. — have also moved to buy small aircraft manufacturers to shore up their businesses. It is hoped that the Japanese company will succeed in its entry into a growth area.
The SpaceJet has two models, a 90-seat plane and a 70-seat plane, and MHI intends to focus on the 70-seat model, as this size is in high demand in the United States. Low fuel cost and a spacious passenger cabin are features of the model, according to the company.
The number of orders that the company has officially received stands at about 300. The figure has not reached an initial rough target of 400, which would allow the company to pull its business into the black.
Orders from some airlines may be canceled due to the aircraft’s development being delayed. MHI should take the situation seriously and offer a thorough explanation to its customers.
MHI has supplied aircraft parts to Boeing in the United States and other companies, but has never designed or built a jet plane on its own. There may be no denying that it was too optimistic about technological prospects.
The company hired a large number of foreign engineers, but some say it is not easy for them to share information with Japanese staff. The development system must be reviewed.
It is estimated that the development costs will rise to ¥800 billion, whereas they were initially expected to be ¥150 billion. To make the business turn a profit, it is essential to receive many more orders. The government should consider support measures, including sales efforts in foreign countries.