After we completed the recording Mr. Bellamy and his colleagues started to discuss the program in more specific terms than we had heard to date. Indeed, this was essentially AirInsight’s first program briefing.
The conversation covered the road traveled, along with the lessons learned and challenges they had to overcome. Mitsubishi may have a lot of experience in building aerospace components, but it had none when it came to getting the parts and integrating these into a fully functional commercial airplane. The learning curve was steep with several stumbles along the way.
As a reference point, it is useful to consider how long it has taken the Chinese aerospace industry to produce a commercial aircraft – and they started a long time before Mitsubishi did. By comparison, Mitsubishi actually has done rather better.
The program is also made complex by the people the company needed to accomplish the task. Among the 2,000 employees, there are 18 languages. This might be a common thing for the other aerospace OEMs. But for a largely Japanese project so much outsider input may be unprecedented. Integrating the parts and the people turned out to be a colossal task. Certainly more complicated than was envisaged at the start of the program.
Time has also not been the program’s friend. Since the start of the project, the market has changed. There has been no scope clause easing, but airlines have changed their focus. The original MRJ90, now called the M90 is not facing as large a market as was expected. The aircraft would have to be used by US major airlines directly as opposed to by regional partners to be accepted.
Which is why the MRJ70 was not only renamed, it was also tweaked to fit inside US scope limits while providing the widest and highest cabin in the regional market. US regional airline customers will if the airlines allow it, be pleasantly surprised at the space. (Hence the new name). If there is a case to make the CRJ550 a more comfortable airplane with better revenue potential, then the M100 will certainly match and probably beat that. At far better economics. If Airbus makes the argument that the A220 is a clean sheet design and therefore more comfortable than its competitor, then Mitsubishi can make the same case with the M100. The M100 is a clean sheet regional jet, with the appropriate cabin updates in a much bigger tube.
When we asked how one should look at the program – specifically we asked, “When should we start the clock for the program?” the reply was “Now”. After consideration, we can see this is a fair statement. The M100 is the outcome of the tough apprenticeship the MRJ90 put the firm through. Mitsubishi now has a stable team with the skill set to bring the M90 to market by mid next year.
The current negotiations between Bombardier and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry (MHI) do not include Mitsubishi Aircraft – how that plays out is not being run by the program. However, the outcome is likely to be a boost for the program. No date on decisions has been leaked, but it should not be too long. MHI needs to have a lot of the CRJ assets (people, services, etc) in place in time for EIS.
In summary, we concur that the M100 program clock should start from this Paris show. The M100 is likely to be the main model sold and will compete with the E-Jets. While time was not Mitsubishi’s friend, circumstances most certainly have worked out in their favor. It is serendipitous that just as they get the M100 defined as it needs to be, Bombardier leaves the market and the E175-E2 remains outside scope limits. After all the travail the Mitsubishi team has been through, it is auspicious that the market has never been more ready for them.