Mitsubishi Holds Low-Key First Flight for Its SpaceJet M90

The long-delayed milestone is a significant step toward certification.

After years of delays, Mitsubishi reached a major turning point in the development of its SpaceJet M90 passenger plane—the first commercial airplane to be designed and built in Japan in over half a century.

The company recently conducted the M90’s first test flight—but the milestone was held with no media presence or fanfare due to coronavirus prevention measures. The airplane performed basic performance tests in normal operating conditions above the Pacific Ocean and completed its maiden flight without a hitch.

“Today’s flight test was conducted smoothly and according to plan. The aircraft delivered on expectations and handled just as I anticipated,” said pilot Hiroyoshi Takase.

The SpaceJet M90 completes its first flight.

Originally called the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the SpaceJet comes in 88- and 76-seat variants. The aircraft is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW1200G engines that give the M90 a range of 2,350 miles and a ruising speed of Mach 0.78, or 578 miles per hour.

With its first test flight behind it, the aircraft is entering into its final stage of certification testing over the next few months. Additional flights will take place in Japan before the plane is transported to the Moses Lake Flight Test Center in Washington state for final certification testing. Six other SpaceJet prototypes are already at the center.

Mitsubishi expects the aircraft to be operational by 2022. That puts the plane almost a decade behind schedule: it was originally supposed to enter into service in 2013. But engineering and legal problems have caused significant delays for the highly anticipated passenger jet. In 2019 the program was delayed again—the program’s sixth major postponement—to give designers more time to incorporate multiple design changes.

Some of those changes, such as crew alerts, were influenced by the 737 MAX disasters. “We have completely redesigned the philosophy of human factors on the flight deck in the last year,” said Mitsubishi Aircraft Chief Development Officer Alex Bellamy.

When the SpaceJet is finally certified, it will begin commercial flights for All Nippon Airways, the aircraft’s launch customer. Mitsubishi claims that it has “hundreds” of additional commitments from airlines for the regional jet—indicating potential strong demand for the plane.

After many delays, Japan’s first commercial aircraft in decades has taken a big step closer to certification—and toward becoming a new player in the highly competitive regional aircraft market.

Read more about the SpaceJet at First Japanese Passenger Jet in 50 Years Could Take On Boeing and Airbus.