The highly anticipated Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) is flying the flag for the nascent Japanese aerospace industry. President of its creator, the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation (MITAC), Hiromichi Morimoto discusses the effect the new jet is expected to have on the sector both at home and internationally as it sets new standards in comfort, design, and lower noise and fuel emissions.
Could you describe the importance of Mitsubishi breaking into the new frontier of the commercial jet segment?
For us, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) has been a long running dream, since we had been prohibited from manufacturing aircraft after World War II, and we had to start from zero to revive the Japanese aviation industry. There are two things that I would like to mention. First is that the fighter jet that we’ve been manufacturing has been created based on the US license, specifically from the F-86 to F2 as well as other models, which include helicopters. Secondly, I’d like to mention that once we had developed the field of commercial aircraft, specifically the YS-11 and the MU-2 models, and also we have been active in manufacturing components for the Boeing 767 and 787. This background and our affiliation with these projects, with the flights and also with the manufacturing experience of commercial aircraft components, have enabled MITAC to nurture new technology to produce such components and go forth with commercial production. This kind of background has precisely led us to the venture of the MRJ.
Japan clearly lags behind Western nations in terms of the aerospace industry. Yet, as Japan makes its debut in the aircraft industry, the MRJ’s technology is likely to set a new benchmark for regional jets across the globe, adding value for the passenger, the airline and the environment. And at the same time, if you look at the rest of the Japanese industries, and their role in specific fields, the most competitive has been the automotive industry. But the question arises: ‘What will be the next industry?’ We consider the aircraft industry will be the one, and the MRJ is a product of this. The MRJ is the first step to activating this trend, and I hope to establish the first few footprints of this trend.
How are you aiming to create new value in the global air travel space?
The MRJ has three main characteristics that I would like to highlight: first is its superior aerodynamics, and as a result, its improved fuel efficiency. Second is its reduced environmental impact, specifically in regards to carbon emissions and noise pollution. And third is the enhanced comfort that we can offer to our passengers, given that it is a smaller aircraft in this scale; compared to our competitors I believe that we are able to realize the largest volume of space within an aircraft, and the design has allowed us to realize this.
In regards to fuel efficiency, we have gathered the top-notch technological resources around and we were able to realize a light aircraft with superior aerodynamics, with special focus on the wings and the fuselage shape and proportions. In addition, we have included the newest type of engines that does not consume as much fuel, which contributes to lower emissions further. Compared to the current aircraft that is manufactured by our competitors, fuel efficiency is superior by a factor of 20%, and this will therefore contribute to preventing the exacerbation of global warming.
When we had the opportunity to meet with Mr Miyanaga he mentioned that you had received more than 400 orders already; what are your expectations in terms of sales and potential for the MRJ?
The global market for the regional jets with 50 to 100 seats is expected to grow to 5,000 units in the next 20 years, according to one estimate. Especially, the expected demand for aircraft with the capacity for 70 to 90 seats is over 3,500 aircraft. And with the active demand increasing with the movement of people and freight, the demand of regional aircraft that is able to connect local to local is deemed to increase as well, and we hope to obtain up to 50% of this share.
So right now, the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer and the Canadian manufacturer Bombardier are the two dominant leaders in this specific industry. However, Bombardier is currently focusing on aircraft that are better designed to seat over 100 passengers. The MRJ intends to capture the aircraft that has a capacity of less than 100 seats, and therefore, in this context, Embraer is the only real competitor we are looking into. We will make our best efforts to constantly develop even better aircraft to achieve the target.
Although the competition will be fierce, to what extent do you believe that the success of the MRJ project can help turn the domestic aviation sector into a leading industry and stimulate Japan’s manufacturing industry as a whole?
First of all, I would like to mention that the manufacturing of aircraft in Japan is an area where the Japanese craftsmanship spirit can be well utilized. If you look at the MRJ’s manufacturing, you can tell that robotics is something that cannot be fully utilized due to the design of the small aircraft – there are so many cables and tubes that have to be inserted manually, and therefore I believe that in this field Japanese intricacies, craftsmanship and pursuit of quality can come into full advantage.
If you look at the Japanese manufacturing field, the automotive industry has many superior manufacturers right now, however we have not utilized many Japanese manufacturing components at this point in time. As it develops in this industry, the MRJ hopes to take advantage of the Japanese parts manufacturing companies. Some manufacturers have already offered to manufacture such parts for us, and I believe this will contribute to the base of this industry, therefore leading the movement of more economic activity not only in the aviation industry but also Japanese economy.
What are some of the examples of the competitive advantages the MRJ can offer against such stiff and well-recognized competition?
We have tried to utilize a variety of media, as well as websites and directly explaining to people about our initiatives, but I believe in the end, the one who determines the quality and the satisfaction of our products comes down to the customers – the airlines. There are quite a few airlines who are accepting our aircraft, for example ANA and JAL, and in the end they will decide if it has good functioning ability or usability, and evaluate the product. Hearing that the customers are satisfied with the product is the best testimonial, and will eventually be transmitted into the perceptions of other customers as well.
Can you take us through some of the innovations that have led to the jet’s reduced environmental impact and why the MRJ is an altogether more sustainable aircraft?
Our aircraft is 20% more fuel efficient. It is contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions. Regarding this 20%, about half of it can be attributed to our new engine, which is often quoted as being the next generation engine designed by Pratt & Whitney. It’s called the geared turbo fan. It also has the characteristic of being less noise polluting, and therefore we can realize fuel efficiency from this engine. The other half is attributed to the design of the aircraft; the engine is already integrated into the design of the aircraft, and thereby realizing fuel efficiency. We have also utilized the CFRP (carbon-fiber reinforced plastic), and by utilizing a carbon-based material on the horizontal empennage, we are able to design a lighter aircraft, which ultimately has better fuel efficiency.
Can you provide comment on the close relationship with MHI and the benefits derived from such a relationship utilizing the extensive experience that MHI has?
So with over 100 years of history of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, we have accumulated a wealth of research and development as well as the technologies that they have.
Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation is developing the MRJ based on the technologies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been cultivating for the development and manufacture of commercial and defense aircraft, taking part in the design, as well as the sales and the customer support process of this business.
Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation specifically does not have a manufacturing facility, therefore manufacturing is outsourced to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries utilizing their technology.
It requires more than 2,500 flight hours to obtain a type of certification; there have been some delays – how have the test flights developed recently?
So when we look at the number 2,500 hours, and break it down into 50 hours per week, you can arrive at this number after 50 weeks, which is about one year. In Japan, within one week, you can maybe only get in around 10 hours, because of external factors, and so we will take four out of five flight test aircraft to the United States, where there are wider airspaces where we can get 50 hours a week in. This is how we intend to get in the 2,500 hours.
In terms of manufacturing and operations across all segments at MITAC, how do you foster a culture that encourages innovation and nurtures new ideas, and how is the philosophy of Kaizen implemented?
When we look at the global market and MRJ’s role in it, the key areas that stand out with excellent growth potential are both the US and Asian markets. The North American market is an important market, home to three of the six airlines that have ordered the MRJ.
How is MITAC establishing its brand, reputation and capabilities in the US?
The American market is the world’s largest regional jet market, and therefore we have been focusing on our sales in that market. There are plenty of customers in the United States’ market. Right now, something that we are working on is the operators of regional jets: we are looking into leasing operators, which is something that I mentioned at the Singapore Airshow as well. A company called Aerolease has engaged in the basic contracts of 20 aircraft. 30% of regional jets that are in operation are from leased resources, not just airline companies, therefore expanding our customers.
How do you envisage the future of MRJ as a global player in the aerospace industry?
As you may know already, this summer we will be transporting four of our aircraft to the United States. The pilots will be operating the aircraft in the United States; we will be getting in our 50 hours each week. We hope to utilize this as an opportunity to bring people to look at these aircraft, and it will also be an opportunity for us to display the results of specific indicators as well as efficiency of our aircraft. I believe that this will be effective in strengthening the persuasiveness of our sales efforts, and whatever flight opportunities there may be, we see this as an opportunity for people to look at our products.
What kind of final message would you like to share?
The Japanese aircraft manufacturing industry was something that was nonexistent until now, but I believe this is a field where our craftsmanship and pursuit of quality can be utilized, especially as a result of all the high quality factors we have gathered. I would like people to know that even in Asia, aircraft manufacturing companies are able to offer extremely high quality aircraft, and we are working to spread the word of our existence. With all the test flights going on, I believe that this is a great chance for PR and to spread the word. I hope to see in the near future everybody flying in MRJs around the world.