Japan is reportedly mulling plans that would revive its ambitions of developing its own commercial aircraft programme, a year after the previous home-grown effort, the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, was scrapped after repeated delays. 

According to national broadcaster NHK, Japan’s trade ministry on 27 March unveiled a draft strategic plan for the domestic aerospace sector, which included an analysis on why the SpaceJet programme failed. 

SpaceJet MHI

Source: Greg Waldron/FlightGlobal

Mitsubishi rebranded its MRJ as the SpaceJet at the 2019 Paris air show

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) formally terminated the SpaceJet programme in February 2023, after acknowledging the various challenges standing in the way of service entry. These included technological advancements, as well as scope-clause agreements at US airlines, which limited the SpaceJet’s prospects in the North American market. 

The SpaceJet project – formerly known as the Mitsubishi Regional Jet – began in 2008, and was to have been Japan’s first commercial aircraft programme in over 40 years and accumulated 3,900 flight-test hours with no safety issues. 

With a new strategic plan, the Japanese government aims to “enhance development capabilities” by way of international collaboration and stronger public-private partnership.

Media reports suggest the government is looking to launch the commercial aircraft programme by 2035, with the “next-generation aircraft” to be powered by alternative energy sources like hydrogen. 

Tokyo has assembled a working group comprising aerospace and energy industry executives for this purpose. 

Matsuo Kuremura, the aerospace and defence division director at the Japanese trade ministry, is quoted in reports as saying that Japan needs to venture into “profitable and value-providing territories” beyond being a supplier to the Western airframers. 

Kuremura added that the government was prepared to invest around Y5 trillion ($33 billion) into the new venture. 

When MHI scrapped the SpaceJet in 2023, it hinted that it could look at future aircraft development programmes using new technology. 

The group also said that learnings from the SpaceJet programme will contribute to Japan’s aviation sector, “which aspires to return [complete] aircraft manufacture to the country.”