Mitsubishi grounds its attempt to crack the passenger jet market

$9bn SpaceJet isn’t dead, but defence, mobility and electronics offer better short-term prospects

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has all-but-abandoned its ambition to become a civil aviation player.

Japan’s government has wanted local firms to re-enter the passenger aircraft market since the early 2000s when it dangled the notion of a jet capable of carrying between 30 and 90 passengers. Mitsubishi put up its hand in 2005 with a plan that called for a first flight in 2012.

That flight actually happened in November 2015 when the first MRJ90 took to the skies in a configuration capable of seating around 90 passengers. While Mitsubishi was able to build seven of the jets for test purposes and trials generally succeeded, and renamed the plan “SpaceJet” ahead of commercial launch, shipping dates kept slipping.

While Mitsubishi struggled, rivals in the regional jet market like Embraer and Bombardier surged ahead. The latter formed an alliance with Airbus and the former called off a joint venture with Boeing once it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would depress the aviation market a few years.

The pandemic hurt the SpaceJet too, because in Mitsubishi Heavy’s new medium-term business plan issued last Friday it was parked on grounds that it is not a high-growth opportunity.

“Given current development status and market conditions, we have no choice but to temporarily pause the majority of SpaceJet activities,” the company’s presentation to investors [PDF] explains. “We will work to review where we stand, make improvements, and assess a possible program restart.”

Mitsubishi isn’t quitting the aerospace market completely – it still sees potential as a contributor to other plane-makers’ efforts and the defense market – but has identified mobility, logistics and electronic components are more likely to deliver growth in coming years.

The $9bn spend on the SpaceJet hasn’t been entirely written off, conceptually, with the firm hoping that by 2024 the aviation market may again look for alternative suppliers. ®

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