TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Aircraft's homegrown passenger jet is a step closer to commercial operations, arriving in the U.S. for extensive flight testing after a month of delays.
The first Mitsubishi Regional Jet took off Monday from Aichi Prefecture's Nagoya Airport, arriving Wednesday evening local time at Moses Lake in Washington state following stopovers in Russia and the U.S. state of Alaska. Two attempts to make the trip in August were called off due to malfunctioning air-control sensors.
The jet will begin test flights as early as mid-October after communications equipment and instruments are swapped out.
More than 90% of the 2,500 test-flight hours required for commercial certification are to be conducted in the U.S. Around 170 hours have been completed so far out of Nagoya. Moses Lake is ideal for testing, given its fine weather and proximity to suitable airspace.
Two other MRJs are undergoing testing in Nagoya, and another will join the fleet sometime in October. The Japanese company is expected to send these three jets to the U.S. by the end of the year, with the bulk of testing completed in 2017. Certification would be obtained in the first half of 2018, letting the first plane be delivered to ANA Holdings in mid-2018 as scheduled.
Brazil's Embraer is developing an MRJ competitor, the E175-E2, for delivery starting in 2020. The plane uses the same type of advanced Pratt & Whitney engine as the MRJ, putting the two jets on par in terms of fuel efficiency. Embraer has received orders for 300 of the planes.
The MRJ gains an advantage from its earlier delivery date. But further delays in an already drawn-out development process could hurt the jet's chances to attract more buyers. Those purchasing nearly half of the 450 or so planes ordered so far also have the option to cancel. Eight years have passed since Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, parent of Mitsubishi Aircraft, officially launched the MRJ program. The coming months will tell whether the jet truly has a chance at success.