Prototype may fly in 2007 as cabin design takes shape

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is focusing on a four-seat abreast configuration with a 2m (79in) - high and 2.8m-wide cabin for its proposed small regional jet.

MHI introduced a mock-up of the jet at the Japan Aerospace 2004 exhibition last week, but says a final configuration will not be established until next year, when it completes the two-year feasibility phase of a five-year research and development project.

MHI began the study, half funded by the Japanese government, last year with Fuji Heavy Industries and the Japan Aircraft Development Corporation (JADC) participating as subcontractors. The project's head engineer, Kazuhide Shinoda, says the team decided to focus on a 2.8m-wide four-abreast cabin with overhead bins large enough to accommodate full regulation size carry-on luggage after discussing preferences with over 10 regional airlines.

"The concept is better than the Bombardier CRJ and is equivalent in height to the Embraer 170 with slightly narrower diameter than the 170," says Shinoda.

Alternative configurations with three-abreast and narrower four-abreast cabins have been rejected. MHI is studying aircraft seating between 30 and 50 passengers with 31in pitch. A model of a 38-seat jet was at the exhibition, but the length of the fuselage or exact seating capacity has not yet been set.

"We're trying to finalise configuration," says Shinoda, adding that informal customer requirement talks with airlines are ongoing.

He says the study team has discussed powerplants with several foreign engine manufacturers. An engine decision will be made before 2008 and the development schedule partly hinges on whether a new or existing engine is selected.

If an existing engine is selected and MHI decides there is a business case to launch the programme before completion of the research and development study in 2008, a prototype could fly as early as 2007 and the first aircraft could be delivered as early as 2010.

Source: Flight International