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ANALYSIS: Charting the MRJ’s highs and lows

Mitsubishi’s impending announcement at next week's Paris air show, that it will acquire the CRJ programme from Bombardier, could provide a shot in the arm for its own regional jet programme, the MRJ.

It also marks the programme coming full circle from the 2007 Paris air show, when Mitsubishi first unveiled a mock-up of the MRJ.

Here, FlightGlobal looks at the ups and downs of the MRJ, Japan’s second airliner to be designed and produced in the country since the NAMC YS-11 of the 1960s.

2007: THE BIG REVEAL

A single-aisle, four-abreast 70-90 seater regional jet, with up to 20% improvement in fuel efficiency – that was the pitch Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) put forth at the Paris air show in 2007, where it unveiled the first mock-up of the MRJ.

Dubbed the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, MHI aimed to use the aircraft to challenge the duopoly held by Bombardier and Embraer.

The aircraft would be made primarily of composite materials, MHI said, and it was set to enter service by 2012.

MHI also revealed that it was looking to get Boeing as a partner.

2008: INDICATIONS OF INTEREST

The year started off positively for Mitsubishi, when All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced that it was formally considering the 90-seater variant of the MRJ, along with Bombardier’s CRJ900 and the Embraer 190.

In March that year, ANA announced plans for a firm order of 15 MRJ90s, with options for 10 more, effectively becoming the type’s launch customer. The airline said the MRJ will “fill a void” in its fleet, between its Bombardier Dash 8s and Boeing 737s.

In June, FlightGlobal reported that MHI was close to securing a second customer for the MRJ, which would be revealed at that year’s Farnborough air show.

2009: CHANGES, DELAYS, THEN A BOOST

The purported second customer never materialised by 2009. Still, MHI remained optimistic about the programme.

At the Asian Aerospace show in Hong Kong in September, Mitsubishi Aircraft unveiled a raft of changes to the programme. These included using aluminum instead of composites in the wings.

These changes meant that the aircraft’s final design would be delayed to mid-2010, instead of later that year, pushing back the ANA’ delivery to the first quarter of 2014.

Then, in October, the aircraft programme received a much-needed fillip, when US regional regional airline group Trans States Holdings inked a deal for 100 aircraft in the MRJ family. Under the agreement, Trans States has firm orders for 50 aircraft and options for 50 more. Trans State would in 2011 firm up its orders.

2010: PRODUCTION BEGINS

In October, Mitsubishi finally kicked off production for the MRJ, with the first metal cut for the aircraft’s horizontal stabiliser. Assembly work for the aircraft would commence a year later.

The same year, ANA officially committed to the programme, purchasing 15 MRJs for delivery from fiscal years 2013 to 2017.

2012-2013: DELAYS, AND THEN SOME

The first sign of MRJ’s woes emerged at the Singapore air show in February 2012, when Mitsubishi, citing undefined “challenges”, said it was likely the first flight of the MRJ would be delayed.

In April that year, Mitsubishi said the first flight would be pushed back for more than a year, to late 2013. This meant that the first delivery to ANA will also be delayed by over one year to the summer of 2015. The airframer said then that it needed to "confirm respective fabrication processes" and "provide sufficient time for technical studies”.

But a small spark of optimism came at Farnborough air show, when US regional airline owner SkyWest Airlines announced an in-principle order of 100 MRJs. It firmed up the deal in December, ordering 100 MRJ90s, with an option for another 100.

In August 2013, Mitsubishi announced yet another delay to the MRJ programme, this time pushing its first flight back by more than a year to the second quarter of 2015. This meant that the first delivery would take place in Q2 2017, nearly two years later than what was originally forecast.

2014-2016: INTO THE SKIES

In August 2014, Japan Airlines signed a letter of intent for the MRJ, making it the second Japanese carrier to commit to the programme. Less than half a year later, in January 2015, it firmed up an order for 32 of the jets.

Then another wave of delays hit the programme, this time in April 2015, when it announced that the MRJ’s first flight will be delayed to the third quarter of the year, but denied that it was because of troubles in the programme.

In the second half of 2015, the date for the first flight was gradually shifted back, first to the second half of October, then the last week of the month, then to early November.

Finally, on 11 November 2015, the MRJ finally took to the skies, lifting off from Nagoya Airfield for its maiden flight.

At the end of 2015, Mitsubishi announced that it would delay deliveries for about a year later than was previously indicated.

In Sept 2016, the MRJ took off to the United States, as it moved towards getting the MRJ type certified in the US

2017: MORE DELAYS, MORE DISAPPOINTMENT

The year 2017 began with Mitsubishi announcing another round of delays to the aircraft’s delivery dates, this time by another two years. This was the fifth time the delivery schedule had to be pushed back.

The changes this time round had to do with “revisions of certain systems and electrical configurations on the aircraft to meet the latest requirements for certification”, Mitsubishi said.

The latest round of delays sent a wave of disappointment among customers. ANA, for example, had to lease 737s to cope with the delays.

In June, a decade after its mock-up was unveiled, the MRJ landed at Le Bourget for its Paris air show debut. While the jet's elegant lines were a highlight of the show, no new orders were forthcoming.

2018-2019: BATTLE LINES DRAWN

In October 2018, months after the MRJ made its flying display debut at Farnborough air show, Mitsubishi was slapped by a lawsuit from arch-nemesis Bombardier.

The Canadian company alleged that Mitsubishi stole trade secrets in relation to aircraft certification.

In January 2019, Mitsubishi filed a counterclaim, alleging that Bombardier has engaged in a deliberate effort to derail the MRJ programme.

Then, in April 2019, a judge dismissed Bombardier’s claims, prompting the company to refile another lawsuit against Mitsubishi in May.

2019: THE FEUD TAKES A SURPRISING TURN

As June began, Mitsubishi dropped the bombshell, confirming rumours that it was in negotiation with Bombardier for the acquisition of its CRJ programme.

While it was tight-lipped on details, it is expected to announce the acquisition at the Paris air show in June.

Reports also emerged that the airframer was considering reworking the MRJ programme to create a smaller 70-seater dubbed the Space Jet. Mitsubishi said reports of a rebrand did not “accurately reflect our strategy”.

There were also other reports that the 76-seat MRJ70 would be undergoing a redesign, then known as The Concept.

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