Mitsubishi axes ailing SpaceJet programme

Japanese manufacturer confirms it has cancelled its regional jet project


Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has formally terminated its ailing SpaceJet regional aircraft programme. The Tokyo-based manufacturer announced its decision in its Q1-3 2022 financial report published on February 7, citing its failure “to confirm sufficient business viability” for resuming the troubled project.

Justifying the move, Mitsubishi indicated the extensive funding required to continue type certification was not feasible in the current market environment. It added that revisions, including decarbonising solutions, would now be required due to the type’s prolonged development, while it has also encountered difficulties with global partners and changes to the scope clause that mean the aircraft no longer complies with US regulations.


Delays and setbacks

Development of the troubled Japanese type, previously known as the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) the MRJ90 and later the SpaceJet M90 and M100, had been “temporarily paused” since early 2020, despite the aircraft being part-way through its flight testing and certification campaign.

The programme was first unveiled at the 2007 Paris Air Show and officially launched early the following year with a 25-aircraft order from Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA). It was subsequently blighted by a string of setbacks and delays, including spiralling costs, supply chain and powerplant issues, while the design itself was subject to extensive and expensive changes and hardware modifications to rectify design flaws. By the time the SpaceJet completed its maiden flight in November 2015, it was already well behind rivals Bombardier (the CS100, now the Airbus A220-100, was certified a month later) and Embraer – it’s E2 was yet to fly, but as a re-engined version of its popular E-Jet, was a significantly simpler undertaking than Mitsubishi’s clean sheet offering.

At the time development was paused, the SpaceJet had accrued more than 3,900 flying hours across six testbeds, the majority of which was undertaken at Moses Lake, Washington. It had, however, lost several major orders, including from Eastern Air Lines (20 firm plus 20 options), and Trans State Holdings (up to 100 aircraft), with others looking uncertain.


CRJ and beyond

Termination of the SpaceJet programme will be keenly felt not only by Mitsubishi and the Japanese Government, which invested a combined $7 billion into its development, but also by Japan’s wider aerospace industry – it was only the second indigenous airliner design after the 1960s-era NAMC YS-11 turboprop. The manufacturer will, however, retain an interest in the regional aircraft sector through the CRJ, which it continues to support having acquired the programme from Canadian counterpart Bombardier in 2019.

Mitsubishi said it also plans to deepen its partnerships with other global manufacturers, consider next-generation technologies with a view to potential future aircraft programmes, and utilise lessons learnt on the SpaceJet on the F-X next-generation fighter it is jointly developing with the UK and Italy.