Mitsubishi Plans Low Key First Flight For SpaceJet M90

Mitsubishi Aircraft is reportedly almost ready to take its M90 Flight Test Vehicle 10 (FTV10) into the skies for the first time. However, the occasion is likely to pass quietly by, as the shadow of coronavirus puts a dampener on any plans the company had to celebrate the event.

spacejet FTV10
The Mitsubishi SpaceJet M90 FTV10 is ready to fly. Photo: Mitsubishi Aircraft

The M90 FTV10 is ready for takeoff

Mitsubishi is planning its first flight of the Flight Test Vehicle for the SpaceJet M90 program. The program, which has been beset with delays, is pinning its hopes on certification taking place in the near future, with deliveries slated to begin in April 2021.

The aircraft being used for these test flights is known as the Flight Test Vehicle 10 (FTV10), and is what the company describes as a “new, certifiable baseline design”. It was built and rolled out by MHI Manufacturing at the start of the year and is now with Mitsubishi’s flight testing division.

The aircraft has been created to meet all the important certification criteria, and it is Mitsubishi’s strongest play to date to get the M90 certified for operations. According to Flight Global, the company said it is “in final preparations for its first flight, which we will announce in the coming weeks.”

Exciting times for Mitsubishi, but perhaps not as glamorous a start for the aircraft as they would have liked. The current coronavirus outbreak has somewhat dampened what should have been a landmark occasion for the firm, and means the first flight of the M90 FTV10 is unlikely to get the media attention it deserved, if any at all.

spacejet FTV10
The first flight is likely to pass by quite uneventfully. Photo: Mitsubishi Aircraft

No media party

Usually, when an aircraft manufacturer conducts the first flight of a new aircraft type, it garners a lot of attention around the world. When Boeing first flew the highly anticipated 777X last month, Everett was filled with hordes of media, photographers and news reporters eager to get a glimpse of the shiny new plane.

While the M90 is arguably not quite as spectacular as the 777X, the first flight of FTV10 should have been a celebration for Mitsubishi. As such, the company would usually have invited the world’s media along to enjoy the occasion, and would likely have hosted an event for employees, customers and other stakeholders.

As it is, it looks like this first flight will pass rather quietly in the shadow of the COVID-19 outbreak. Since the 21st February, the Japanese government has banned all large events and public gatherings, putting a stop to everything from school graduations to cherry blossom festivals. Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are currently closed, as are several art galleries and museums.

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The coronavirus outbreak means large gatherings are not encouraged. Photo: Mitsubishi AIrcraft.

As such, any large gathering of people to celebrate the first flight of FTV10 would be in direct contrast with the Japanese government’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus. As such, FTV10 will conduct its first flight relatively quietly, with little or no ceremony involved.

Who will fly the M90?

Once the SpaceJet M90 receives its certification, Mitsubishi can turn its focus to getting the type delivered to its customers. So far the aircraft has received 167 firm orders, with the biggest customer being SkyWest, a regional carrier based in Utah that flies feeder routes for many of the big US airlines. SkyWest is expecting 100 M90s, plus it has options in place for a further 100.

In Japan itself, Mitsubishi has received support from Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA), who have ordered 10 and 15 of the type respectively. The rest of the M90 orders are for leasing firms.

MRJ in ANA livery
The SpaceJet in ANA livery. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia

Once the M90 starts delivering, Mitsubishi will be focused on bringing to market the SpaceJet M100. This aircraft has been specifically designed to meet scope clause requirements in the US, and has so far seen orders only from Mesa Airlines, who has 50 on order plus 50 options.

Mitsubishi has even set up a sales office in Renton in a bid to attract US airlines to its new regional jet. It is hoping that at least some of SkyWest’s orders can be converted to the US version of its aircraft. However, customers can expect to wait until at least 2024 before that bird is ready to fly.

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