For the team at Mitsubishi Aircraft building the SpaceJet there’s something special about aircraft number 10. The plane made its first flight last week marking a major milestone for the development program of the SpaceJet M90 regional jet. Flight Test Vehicle 10 (FTV10) is the first aircraft to fly in the final, certifiable baseline configuration.
Today’s flight test was conducted smoothly and according to plan. The aircraft delivered on expectations and handled just as I anticipated.– Captain Hiroyoshi Takase
As the numbering scheme indicates, there are several other aircraft flying in the test program today. None of them, however, came off the assembly line in a configuration that will eventually be delivered to customers. And so while having them flying and collecting test data is important for the program, getting to this stage, where the planes are flying for certification the same as they will for commercial airlines, is a major deal.
Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Chief Development Officer Alex Bellamy called the news “especially encouraging” as the program hopefully transitions into its final stage of development. With thousands of changes incorporated from the initial design the current iteration of the M90 is a much improved and indeed very different aircraft than what first started test flights in 2016. Bellamy also called attention to the efforts made on that front as the “culmination of an organizational transformation and all of the engineering changes made” since the first flight test vehicle took to the skies.
FTV10 carries the registration JA26MJ and will continue to fly from the Mitsubishi Aircraft home base at Nagoya while preparing for a ferry flight to Moses Lake, Washington where it will join the rest of the SpaceJet test fleet for the final phase of the certification testing program.
Anther milestone in the SpaceJet certification program
Separate from the FTV10 milestone Mitsubishi Aircraft also recently celebrated a special moment on its FTV1 aircraft. In mid-February the plane flew with the first Pratt & Whitney GTF PW1200G engines assembled in Japan. The move to build the engines locally, in addition to the aircraft, is tied to what Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hisakazu Mizutani calls “the process of creating not only aircraft but also the foundation for the commercial aviation industry in Japan.”
While these milestones are significant the final certification for the type remains some time off. The company recently indicated a late 2021 or early 2022 timeframe for the first commercial delivery, slipping yet another year out on the schedule. While further delays are unfortunate there is also some reason to believe that getting past the current aviation and economic downturn before the type delivers could be beneficial to the company. Taking new aircraft and immediately parking them is rarely a good sign.
The delay also gives an opportunity for rumored leadership changes to take effect and help strengthen the program overall, including a renewed push into the US regional jet market with a scope clause-compliant model. Then again, the shock that global aviation is experiencing right now is the sort of event that can also see previously immovable concepts such as mainline pilot scope clauses suddenly become active negotiating points. Unlikely, but possible.