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Aerospace & Defense

Mitsubishi Aircraft fights to keep suppliers at Singapore airshow

Passenger jet maker expected to announce new delivery date before Farnborough Airshow in July

Mitsubishi Aircraft wants to show its commitment to Asia through the Singapore Airshow, says Alex Bellamy, chief development officer. (Photo by Mayuko Tani)

SINGAPORE -- Mitsubishi Aircraft is exhibiting its SpaceJet passenger plane in an expanded booth at the Singapore Airshow, after fears of coronavirus contagion led to cancellations.

More than 70 companies, including Lockheed Martin, withdrew from the biennial show that was supposed to showcase 930 companies. This has given the Nagoya-based aircraft maker, an upstart in an industry dominated by global multinationals such as Boeing and Airbus, the opportunity to show its commitment to the region.

The goal is "making people aware of the SpaceJet so for the next five or 10 years, as they begin to grow their network, we will be at the forefront of their mind," said Alex Bellamy, chief development officer.

Despite facing cancellations of appointments with Taiwanese suppliers, Bellamy said he still expects Asia to grow faster than saturated markets such as the U.S. and Europe.

Two years ago, Mitsubishi Aircraft had a smaller booth at the Singapore Airshow, where it just showed a video of its new passenger jet. This year, its booth is near the media center and features a mock cabin that the company claimed was the most spacious in regional travel.

Visitors are greeted at the entrance by a gleaming model of the SpaceJet 100, a 76-seater passenger jet unveiled just last year and is expected to go into service in 2023.

The display shows how the company, a unit of Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has shifted its focus from becoming the manufacturer of Japan's first passenger jet to developing aircraft that has a market and creating a self-sustaining business.

The M100 is configured for the U.S., the world's largest regional jet market, where there are restrictions on the size of planes regional carriers can fly. Prospective orders for the M100 will soon exceed 500, according to Mitsubishi officials.

For now, Mitsubishi has to get its legacy model for the Japanese market, the 90-seater M90, certified to fly. The M90 has been in development since 2008, before Mitsubishi brought in foreign engineers in 2016 to turn around the delayed project.

On Feb. 6, the company announced the sixth delay for the M90's delivery, which is now likely to be around April 2021 from an initial estimate of mid-2020.

"Most of the testing for type certification should be accomplished this year, with one or two exceptions," said Bellamy in an interview. The test aircraft that has incorporated more than 900 design changes has been undergoing ground tests in Nagoya since January and is expected to take off for flight tests in the U.S. by the end of April, he said. Bellamy expects Mitsubishi to be able to announce a new delivery date before the Farnborough Airshow in the U.K. in July.

Bellamy said the company did not want to rush engineers and compromise safety. Documentation, in English and Japanese, has also taken longer than expected. "The volume of documentation we process every day is extremely high," he said.

Furthermore, the flight control box is an analog device that requires all components on the circuit board to be resoldered whenever a change is made, and is taking a year to update by its supplier.

While Japan is keenly waiting for the jet to finally take off, Bellamy sees other challenges, such as how to keep suppliers on board. Mitsubishi's suppliers include Rockwell Collins, an avionics giant, and Pratt & Whitney, an engine maker, both of which are owned by United Technologies, a multinational corporation.

"The biggest challenge we have to make it a success is to convince the supplier base to work with us on a cost basis," he said. "The suppliers have merged and merged and merged to be very significant pieces of our business, while we are so small to the point that they can't see us."

One of the reasons Mitsubishi Aircraft has come to the Singapore Airshow is to look for new suppliers and to "make them passionate about what we are doing."

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