The plane that arrived this week is the 88-seat MRJ 90. (Mitsubishi Aircraft)

The plane that arrived this week is the 88-seat MRJ 90. (Mitsubishi Aircraft)

New Mitsubishi regional jet being tested in Moses Lake

MOSES LAKE — Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.’s new regional jet landed Wednesday in Moses Lake to begin flight tests ahead of certification and full production.

The Japanese airplane maker picked Washington because Japan’s airspace is too crowded for efficient flight testing. A little more than a year ago, the company opened an engineering center in Seattle to support its Moses Lake operation.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) is expected to enter commercial service in 2018. However, the program has already experienced several delays.

Mitsubishi Aircraft is making 76-and 88-seat versions of the MRJ. The plane that landed this week at Moses Lake is the larger MRJ 90. The smaller version is the MRJ 70.

So far, customers have placed 233 firm orders, with options for 170 more and purchase rights on another 24. The company is working on an agreement with Swedish airplane lessor Rockton for 10 firm orders and 10 options. Once finalized, that would bring the total order book to 447.

However, all of those are for the MRJ 90. The lack of interest in the MRJ 70 leaves the smaller sibling’s future in doubt.

The MRJ 90 is the first commercial airliner built in Japan since 1962. With it, Mitsubishi Aircraft, which is part of Boeing-supplier Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), is trying to break into the regional jet market, which is dominated by Bombardier and Embraer. Those two are focused on breaking into the commercial jet market dominated by Boeing and Airbus.

The MRJ is not the only newcomer to the regional jet market. Russia’s Sukhoi developed its Superjet 100, which entered service in 2011. Another Russian firm, Irkut is developing the MC-21, which is slated to enter service in 2018. It has 175 firm orders and 100 options, according to Irkut’s website. The Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China’s (COMAC) new regional jet, the ARJ21-700 started flying passengers in June.

Despite the crowded field, the MRJ has the biggest order book to date.

Three Washington aerospace suppliers, including two in the Everett area, already are working on Mitsubishi’s MRJ program.

Zodiac Aerospace’s Bellingham operation provides parts for the passenger cabins. AvtechTyee supplies the phones used by flight attendants, and Esterline’s Korry Electronics provides overhead control panels used in the jet’s cockpit.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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