What Is Happening With The Mitsubishi SpaceJet?

The Mitsubishi SpaceJet has been a long time coming. With orders totaling 213 firm and 194 options, many of which were placed as long ago as 2008, you’d think we’d be seeing this aircraft pulling up at regional stands all over the world by now. But it has yet to be delivered to its launch customers. Here’s what’s going on now with the MRJ, now known as the SpaceJet.

MRJ front
It’s been a long time coming, so where is the MRJ or SpaceJet now? Photo: Mitsubishi

Back in mid-June, Mitsubishi announced that they would rename their Mitsubishi Regional Jet (or MRJ) to the SpaceJet. This would initially encompass two models; the existing MRJ 90 which would be renamed the SpaceJet M90, and the newly unveiled and slightly smaller SpaceJet M100.

The M100 was an evolution of a previous Mitsubishi concept dubbed the MRJ70. This was an aircraft specifically designed for the US market, to overcome specifics of the pilot scope clause that limit the size and number of aircraft flown. The M100 was to slot into the 65-76 seat, three class marketplace, and should have been a shoo-in for US regional fleet renewal.

And yet, we haven’t seen any operating in the US or otherwise, so what’s going on with the SpaceJet?

A brief history of the SpaceJet

The concept of the SpaceJet has its roots way back in 2003, when the Japanese government launched a five year research program to develop an indigenous regional jet. The program was led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI).

The first concept was unveiled at Paris Air Show in 2007, with the program officially kicked off the following year at Farnborough. At the time, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet program, as it was then known, announced an initial order for 25 jets from All Nippon Airways (ANA) with a target launch date of 2013.

The MRJ was launched in 2008. Photo: Wikimedia

However, that launch date was to prove to be somewhat optimistic. Delay after delay beset the program, pushing back first flight and subsequent launch time after time. Finally, the maiden flight of the MRJ90 took place in the 11th November 2015. At that point, Mitsubishi announced a new launch date of mid 2018 for the jet, but again that was to prove untenable.

In January 2017, the launch was pushed back to mid-2020. Many of these delays were caused by failure to document work done for certification purposes. At the last count, the program has cost Mitsubishi 350bn yen ($3.17bn). Reuters suggests that it would take sales of 800 models of the aircraft at least for the program to break even, suggesting that it probably never will.

SpaceJet rename
The MRJ was renamed the SpaceJet earlier this year. Photo: Mitsubishi

So where are we now?

The M90 SpaceJet has entered the final stage of flight testing, and will, with any luck, be delivered by summer 2020 to its launch customer, ANA. This represents the culmination of a 15 year odyssey to get an aircraft certified. Chances are Mitsubishi have learned a lot from their experience, which can hopefully now be applied to their second model – the SpaceJet M100.

MRJ in ANA livery
The SpaceJet in ANA livery. Photo: Wikimedia

Earlier this year, MHI snagged a partnership with Triumph to undertake some modifications to the M100 line. Previously, the aircraft was too small for a scope clause compliant aircraft, where the M90 was too big. Triumph helped them expand the fuselage by two feet without any weight penalty, which has allowed them to get the necessary 76 seats into the cabin.

As such, this aircraft could be a key contender for the US regional fleet renewal, but they need to stick to their timelines. With Embraer already pushing the E-Jet as a new regional solution, Mitsubishi will need to be quicker getting this one off the ground if they want to bag their share of the market.

The SpaceJet at Paris
The SpaceJet secured orders at this year’s Paris Air Show. Photo: Mitsubishi

However, the jet looks promising, and apparently at least one carrier thinks so too. An undisclosed US airline signed an MoU for 15 of the type at this year’s Paris Air Show, with deliveries slated to begin in 2024. If Mitsubishi can deliver on time, we could see the SpaceJet M100 appearing in many North American fleets over the next decade.