Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet takes first flight in bid to become player in regional jet market

Mar 19, 2020

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After years of delays, Mitsubishi’s new regional jet has taken to the skies.

The M90 SpaceJet departed Wednesday afternoon from the Nagoya Airport in Japan and performed flight tests over the Pacific Ocean for about two hours before returning to the field.

“Today’s announcement is especially encouraging, as it marks the start of certification flight testing for the first SpaceJet M90 in final, certifiable configuration”, Alex Bellamy, Mitsubishi Aircraft’s chief development officer said in a statement. “We are all proud of this latest accomplishment, which reflects the hard work of a dedicated team, the culmination of an organizational transformation and all of the engineering changes made since 2016. We look forward to continuing our progress toward commercial certification of the M90 program”.

As Bellamy suggested, the SpaceJet programme has had a number of hiccups throughout its development, and the project is years behind schedule.

Mitsubishi had already technically conducted a first flight of the jet when it was still known by its previous MRJ name. That flight came in November 2015, but Mitsubishi had to make further updates to the jet and eventually rebranded the whole effort as the “SpaceJet” programme.

Wednesday’s flight marked the first time that Mitsubishi flew the jet in its “final, certifiable configuration”.

With the SpaceJet, Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi is trying to become a player in the regional aircraft space that has long been dominated by Canada’s Bombardier and Brazil’s Embraer.

The M90 can seat between 81 and 88 passengers depending on the aircraft’s configuration. The smaller M100 variant can seat between 76 and 84 passengers, keeping it in line with U.S. airlines’ scope clauses for regional jets.

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When the SpaceJet completes testing it will enter service with ANA. It could even find its way into the regional fleets of U.S. carriers, with United Express affiliate Mesa signing a memorandum of understanding for 50 firm M100s, plus 50 options last year. The first aircraft would be due in the mid-2020s, but the deal is contingent on whether the regional carrier lands a contract with major U.S. airline for the planes. Testing will continue in Japan and in the U.S. at Moses Lake in the coming weeks.

Featured photo by Marina LystsevaTASS via Getty Images.

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