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Delivery delayed further by weak wing

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet's delivery date has been pushed back for the fourth time.

TOKYO -- Buyers of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet now must wait until mid-2018 or later for its delivery, as technical and management troubles including insufficient wing strength heap another year-long delay on the beleaguered Japanese commercial aircraft.

Further upgrades necessary

The previous delivery target of between April and June 2017 "was naive and based on incomplete knowledge," Nobuo Kishi, senior executive vice president of Mitsubishi Aircraft, told reporters Thursday. The delay is the fourth for Japan's first homegrown passenger jet in a half-century. Mitsubishi Aircraft had hoped to make fiscal 2020 its first profitable year. But "logic holds that profitability will be delayed" as well, said Yoichi Kujirai, vice president of parent Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

     The Mitsubishi Regional Jet successfully completed its first test flight Nov. 11. But inspections on the path to commercializing the plane revealed that further improvements and experiments are necessary to ensure the aircraft will remain safe even during long flights. Those extra steps will require more time than budgeted, leading the delivery date to be pushed back once again.

     One major issue involves the aircraft's main wing. In order to obtain type certification in Japan, the jet's frame must be able to bear 50% more weight than is encountered during normal flight. Further upgrades are needed to ensure the wing will meet that mark. Wheels and landing gear "must also be redesigned for better safety," Kishi said. The flight control system will also be put through further testing, and its software improved.

Other hurdles

Less technical problems have proven a drag on the jet's progress as well. Mitsubishi Aircraft "is working with its supplier to revise the schedule for engine delivery," Kishi said. Some suspect that Mitsubishi Aircraft, a newcomer to the aerospace industry, is struggling to build strong relationships with well established suppliers, including engine source Pratt & Whitney.

     Decision-making delays by executives also seem to have weighed the jet down. "We're still feeling our way along, and often lack the ability to take decisive action," Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto said. "We have frequently not been able to make quick decisions when the time has come to do so."

     Morimoto, also an executive vice president at Mitsubishi Heavy, was installed as the aircraft maker's head in April. That and other changes let the parent become more involved in the MRJ's development, which had until then been handled mainly by Mitsubishi Aircraft. The shakeup was intended to push the jet toward commercialization, but ultimately led to "everyone and anyone giving their own opinion on safety issues, and bogged down decision-making on budgetary matters," an executive at Mitsubishi Heavy said.

Mounting pressure

ANA Holdings, set to receive the first complete MRJ, noted that while "this latest delay is very disappointing, we remain confident of the benefits the MRJ will bring to the ANA fleet." An intense focus on safety should yield a highly polished final product, the company remarked hopefully.

     Yet the long development could give an edge to Brazil's Embraer, which plans to introduce an MRJ competitor in 2020. Delivering the jet is becoming ever more urgent, Morimoto noted, but he conceded that even the new 2018 target "is tough to guarantee." Unforeseen snags could still lie ahead as the landmark aircraft waits for takeoff.


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