Japan’s Commercial Jet Failure
after six delays ten plus years of development and nearly nine billion dollars spent mitsubishi announced in 2020 that development on its mitsubishi regional jet or the space jet would be frozen since then the program has yet to be revived mitsubishi aircraft the subsidiary developing the plane has cut staff and is now insolvent it currently operates with a skeleton crew it's a tough break for japan's first indigenous commercial aircraft in nearly half a century in this video we look back at what happened to the mitsubishi regional jet but first let me talk about the asian nomentry newsletter if you subscribe to the channel you should also sign up to the newsletter read the full scripts to older videos and i'll add extra commentary after the fact there's also newsletter exclusives you can find the link to the newsletter in the video description below or you can just go to asianometry.com as of right now you can expect a new newsletter every thursday at 1 am taiwan time all right back to the show before world war ii japan had a thriving aircraft industry companies like mitsubishi hitachi fuji and kawasaki entered the space at the behest of government policy however many of their projects were for the military thus industrial development was halted after japan lost world war ii this delay was critical as it meant japan fell behind in the generational technology shift from propeller planes to jets at the same time because the industry previously serviced the government none of the companies were commercially competitive they had no experience selling to airliners at home or abroad so japan's only stab at building a commercial plane after the war was the namc ys11 a turboprop airliner first flown in 1962. the japanese ministry of international trade and industry or mitti looking to replace the douglas dc-3s on its short domestic routes encourage a consortium of japanese companies to design and build it the ys-11 was produced for a decade before shutting down in 1974. they
managed to sell about 161 units to several customers japan's de facto military the self-defense forces continued to fly for many years hence but overall the project failed it incurred a 600 million dollar loss however the ys-11 experience allowed japan to enter boeing's supplier network and the country would soon come to dominate the global commercial automobile industry but the commercial plane industry consolidated to the united states with europe joining the duopoly soon thereafter the commercial air travel space is serviced by three types of planes big jets that seat 100 plus people smaller turbo prop planes and finally regional jets these regional jets sit somewhere in the middle they typically max out at about 100 passengers and can fly farther than your ordinary turboprop plane in the united states the hill passengers connect to big hub and spoke airports the first regional jets arrived in the market in the early 1990s to replace a generation of aging turboprop planes while the british aerospace 146 was a category pioneer it lost the market to canada's bombardier and brazil's embraer these two companies have long held majority share of the market but recently that market has seen new competition from russia's suhoy super jet 100 and china's comac arj21 these new entrants are looking to take advantage of what was expected to be a growing market at least before 2019. industry watchers in japan felt that there was an opportunity to plant their flag and really establish itself in a flagship technology space in 2003 the modern day japanese miti the ministry of economy trade and industry started a five-year 400 million dollar program to study an indigenous regional jet capable of seating 30 to 90 passengers the original plan called for an aircraft with 30 to 50 seats however that was upscaled to 70 to 90 seats after analysts determined that market demand for this category would be much bigger over the next 20 years 4 500 plus units the government selected mitsubishi heavy industries to lead the project they exhibited a concept in 2007 and a year later officially launched the program mitsubishi founded a subsidiary alongside toyota and others the mitsubishi aircraft corporation like i said this was japan's first commercial aircraft project in nearly 50 years mitsubishi itself has not developed a commercial plane since the mc20 in 1940 on the other hand mitsubishi heavy industries is one of japan's biggest and most prestigious companies they are currently japan's biggest military supplier with experience producing fighter jets furthermore they and other japanese companies are also a very important supplier to boeing japan contributes 35 of your average boeing 787. this includes some of its most critical parts like the main wings considering these experiences it makes more sense why the japanese felt that they had a fighting chance of ascending the value chain and building a plane of their own mitsubishi planned to take 20 market share of the 4 500 plus unit 70 to 90 seat regional jet market there would be two specifications the mrj90 seating 85 to 90 people and the mrj70 seating 70 to 80 people they position the jet has a high-tech stylish passenger jet it would be comfortable to fly in with spacious overhead bins and big windows today's planes have to be efficient 2008 was the year of 100 oil and fuel is an airline's second biggest expense so the mitsubishi regional jet was designed to sip fuel mitsubishi claimed a 20 to 30 percent fuel reduction over its competitors they called it the world's greenest craft to help develop the jets distinguishing technologies the japanese government contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for instance the development of various technologies like the carbon composite molding technology and an advanced aerodynamic design the mrj had to achieve three big milestones before airliners can start taking deliveries and fly first finalize the design second build up the supply chain and start manufacturing culminating with the first flight and third pass flight tests and get certified by the relevant flight safety agencies the original 2008 plan had a 2013 target launch date and would spend about 1.3 billion dollars for development to pay back those development costs the jet needed to sell about 300 to 400 units mitsubishi would eventually receive orders from airlines both inside and outside of japan japan airlines and a a in the former two u.s base airlines sky west and eastern airlines in the latter this would have significant product consequences down the line the project team members also met with various arms of the government the ministry of land the coast guard the ministry of defense with the hope of securing orders from them however none of them gave a hard commitment and in the case of the coast guard they ended up choosing a different craft entirely a turboprop dhc-8q300 from canadian manufacturer de havilland canada to meet the original planned deadline with its 2013 launch date the first airplane would have to be ready for flight tests in 2011. the first plane design had the wings swept back at a rather drastic angle this offers certain improved performance characteristics but requires a stronger wing more laminated layers and stronger materials this mrj design would use a significant percentage of carbon-based composite materials mostly in those main wings they probably expected that they would be able to tap boeing's exclusive carbon composite supplier in japan toray but soon after in september 2009 the project's design changed in this new design the main wings were changed to be made of aluminium only the rear wings would be made of carbon composites reducing the plane's composite percentage from 30 percent to 10 or 15 percent the reason why this design change happened is not entirely clear it could be due to a lack of slack in the supply chain torrey not being able to deliver enough of these extremely complicated composite materials within a year perhaps it has also been suggested that the change was design related regional jets have to take off and land many more times in large jets composite materials are strong against stretching forces but are weak against pushing high impact forces like what is experienced during takeoff and landing whatever happened the program was delayed six months the first flight was pushed back to the second quarter of 2012 and deliveries to early 2014.
it would be the first delay but at the time nobody really thought anything of it mitsubishi and boeing have a long-standing comprehensive alliance this alliance is partly the result of political requirements that required boeing to allocate some production to japanese manufacturers in other words a technology transfer agreement for a long time japan has leveraged these strategies to build up the capabilities of its domestic companies but in this case the alliance has seemed to have worked out for both parties boeing did consider investing in mitsubishi aircraft but the deal fell through for whatever reason in the end they offer strategic and technical consultation it makes sense why boeing would do this they do not make a regional jet of their own and the mrj would replace their 737s at least for a a and japan is one of their most critical markets boeing contributing to the mrj would deepen their involvement there after the first delay in 2010 a boeing executive suggested that mitsubishi aircraft use the cockpit from the boeing 737 for the mrj looking back at it doing so would have saved time and costs for one thing mitsubishi would have been able to tap boeing's global supply network garnering economies of scale furthermore pilots would have been more familiar with it and that might reduce the number of training hours on the other hand government policy asks that a significant portion of the plane at least 30 percent be domestically sourced this is in line with the arj21 china's indigenous regional jet which made its maiden flight two years earlier in 2008 matching this percentage would have been more challenging if mitsubishi took boeing up on their cockpit offer regardless in 2010 mitsubishi announced that it had locked the plane's design and was moving forward with manufacturing aircraft assembly began in april 2011. over the next three years mitsubishi struggled to build up its supply network for the mrj a single plane has about a million individual parts three times more than your average commercial car these items are far more precise and difficult to manufacture and thus are often made by a small group of suppliers boeing often gets the parts they want when they want it for everyone else they got to wait when the right part is not available manufacturing progress stops and the schedule shifts at the same time the suppliers are building parts without guarantees that they would have economies of scale boeing and airbus build hundreds of planes a year and can thus squeeze lower prices everyone else needs to pay a whole lot more sometimes mitsubishi had to pay twice as much as boeing for a particular part for this reason in april 2012 right around when the plane's first flight should have been happening according to the original 2008 plan mitsubishi announced their second program delay that first flight would be pushed back over a year to the third quarter of 2013. deliveries would be rescheduled to mid 2015.
a few months later some good news came in with the big order from the aforementioned skywest airlines the largest regional airline in north america they announced that they would order 100 of the mrj 90 with an option for another 100 planes a 4.2 billion dollar deal good news but the program remained in the red because the parts were costing so much mitsubishi had to raise its sales target from 1 000 to 1 500 with the break-even sales point being 750 planes at this point the mrj had collected orders for about 407 planes including options a year later in august 2013 the company announced that they needed more time to work with their supply partners thus the company's third production delay the mrj's first delivery would be pushed back two more years from mid-2015 to mid-2017 in october 2014 mitsubishi held its rollout ceremony this signaled the completed assembly of the first plane and was a great landmark various press organs mitsubishi executives and government officials attended this was a big deal japan's first indigenous commercial plane in 50 years after all ito president of a a the first customer said i was impressed by the brave appearance of mrj i can't wait to receive the first aircraft and it is an honor to be the first airline in the world to operate it the first flight took place a year later in november 2015 at the nagoya airport and it seemed to have gone well three japanese military aircraft accompanied the plane as it took off from runway 34 and flew for about 87 minutes reaching heights of some 15 000 feet however there remained a long way to go before customers can start taking deliveries first the company's internal flight tests dozens of flights with five different flight test craft the plane then needs to pass its type certification flights at least 2 500 hours of flight tests mostly in the united states officials will be looking to see if the plane meets standards in nearly 400 line items thus after reviewing the overall schedule mitsubishi decided a fourth delay was necessary the company pushed back first deliveries another year to the third quarter of 2018. critically this would put the mrj's release at about the same time as embraer's e2 series the two planes used the same pratt and whitney engine eliminating the mrj's 20 fuel consumption advantage by 2016 the mrj program budget had ballooned to nearly 3 billion us dollars two years the plane went through its flight tests the plane was exhibited at various shows in singapore and the united kingdom the test planes visited airports in anchorage guam san jose honolulu and the marshall islands but the tc tests were very challenging misinterpretations frequently happened the company also hurt itself with a lack of proper documentation as a result each engineer adopted their own approach in areas like electric wiring this directly led to delay number five in 1996 twa flight 800 exploded and crashed killing 230 people the ntsb investigation determined that an ignition likely from a short circuit in the wiring caused the center fuel tank to explode as a result the faa tightened its aircraft wiring certifications mitsubishi knew about this but because their engineering team did the wire design without proper documentation they could not explain to regulators why they wired it up the way they did rather than reworking some 23 000 wires one by one the company decided to redo the whole thing this was tantamount to a total internal redesign because wiring is all over the plane like blood vessels in the body so the delivery dates were pushed back to mid-2020 four of the five delays thus far had been because of a sloppy lack of documentation president miyanaga of mitsubishi heavy industries remarked at the time what i've learned this time is that i should have learned a little more about pre-development information gathering and risk analysis in response mitsubishi changed his organization structure they hired more foreign engineers with airplane experience and gave them the decision-making power to make changes furthermore president miyanaga took more direct control in the subsidiary and the subsidiary's president would retire it was a sign that the piling delays were becoming more of a big deal at this point it seemed unlikely that the program will ever be profitable in june 2019 mitsubishi rebranded the mrj as the mitsubishi space jet the mrj90 was renamed to the space jet m90 and the mrj70 was reworked to be the space jet m100 mitsubishi did this in response to the concerns of its biggest customers american regional airlines like skywest which signed its memorandum of understanding back in 2009 and trans states holdings or tsh these two airlines alone have 70 percent of the order book many american regional airlines operate under the umbrella of a major airline like united major airline pilots are unionized to protect their pilots earnings from the possibility of wage cuts due to cheaper regional flights unions have things called scope clauses these influence an airplane seat number and its maximum takeoff weight thus mitsubishi adding a few feet to turn the mrj70 into the mj-100 this naturally had impacts on the delivery schedule in late january 2020 mitsubishi announced that it again needed to push back deliveries from mid-2020 to 2021 or beyond delay number six if you're keeping count this is because the new plane design cannot acquire the necessary certification before then at the same time a certain world event was happening and it had direct effects on global air travel in march 2020 an mj-90 unit 10 or ja-26mj had its type certification flight delayed due to pandemic lockdowns for the first time in 20 years mitsubishi heavy industries reported a quarterly loss in may 2020 mitsubishi halved its space jet development plan production would be postponed the company also reduced personnel and closed its various development centers in the united states bringing that work back to japan a few months later in october 2020 the company announced a three-year medium-term management plan all development of the space jet m90 would be paused and 95 of the employees at mitsubishi aircraft let go the company would just maintain its certification documentation while waiting for an anticipated air travel recovery in 2024 japan's odyssey is a tough one and reflects the difficulty of building cutting edge commercial aircraft but at the same time the company was making progress from 2003 to 2020 the jet was moving forward it is really interesting to compare the mitsubishi space jet with china's arj21 that plane made its maiden flight in 2008 six years after the program's 2002 start the space jet hit that landmark in about the same time six years after the 2008 project start the arj's first commercial flight took place in 2016 eight years later where not for the pandemic the space jet might have had a chance to beat that we shall see if mitsubishi will try again it depends on the future of the air travel industry but the program's liquidation and a three-year pause means a massive loss of experience talent and resources the program is functionally dead and it will take a lot to bring it back to life all right everyone that's it for tonight thanks for watching if you enjoyed the video consider subscribing check out the newsletter or follow the twitter want to send me an email drop me a line at john agenometry.com i love reading your emails introduce yourself suggest a topic or more until next time i'll see you guys later