No commercial jet airliner program in history has ever threatened to implode as quickly as Japan’s Mitsubishi MRJ or regional jet project did this week.
The 90 passenger jet, intended to fly short ranges to link smaller airports in Japan or the US to major hub airports, has always been a remote outside chance as a fleet option for any Australian, New Zealand or SE Asian carrier.
That small chance has just been obliterated by disclosures of design deficiencies that accompanied yet a further delay, to the second half of 2018, for first deliveries to All Nippon Airways.
There are two reputable US reports to digest concerning the official announcement of further delays.
The first to appear, in Air Transport World, put the delays into the context of risks to a critical American order, the well reported lack of buyers for the larger regional jet that Canadian plane maker Bombardier is experiencing for its CSeries jets, and the strategic strength of the Embraer E2 upgrades to its established line of E-jets.
Next came an even more troubling story in the Seattle Times, referring, somewhat down the page in the report, to strength problems in the airframe. Supported by quotes from a Mitsubishi executive.
So the MRJ is the wrong size, incredibly late, and too weak structurally to pass critical certification tests.
How Mitsubishi, enshrined in the pantheon, so to speak, of high technology cutting edge Japanese companies, could get to the stage of finally making the delayed jet fly, and then discover such deficiencies beggars belief.
The larger-than-aviation story is that of how a high profile company as Mitsubishi could abruptly, at this very, very late minute, come clean over such a devastating screw-up?
Given that Japan’s manufacturing sector speaks with one voice, and is always identified closely with its national leadership, the answers assume critical importance.