Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mitsubishi Aircraft to test new airliner in Moses Lake

OLYMPIA – Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. will begin testing its new airliner in Moses Lake next year, bringing an estimated 100 jobs to that Central Washington community.

The Japanese manufacturing giant said it signed a contract to begin testing its new regional airplane, the MRJ, with a company based at the Grant County International Airport. The MRJ, for Mitsubishi Regional Jet, is a 70- to 90-seat aircraft that will be flight tested in Moses Lake as well as Japan. The company said Monday it signed a letter of intent with Aerospace Testing Engineering & Certification, or AeroTEC, to begin Moses Lake testing in 2015.

Mitsubishi said it selected Grant County International, the old home of Larson Air Force Base, due to a large aerospace cluster in the state and airport features that include long runways, flexibility for takeoffs and landings because there are no regular transport services, and high chances of fair  weather.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the company was also attracted by the high number of engineers and other aerospace workers in the state and “open skies” compared to Japan’s fairly crowded airspace.

“We’ve got a lot of air to test airplanes in,” Inslee said.

Originally built as Moses Lake Army Air Base during World War II to train fighter pilots and B-17 crews, the base closed in 1966 as a cost-saving measure.

The base, which had a runway that was almost 2 miles long, was turned over to Grant County. Boeing established a test facility there when Larson closed. From 1968 through 2009, Japan Airlines also operated a training facility for its crews to practice takeoffs and landings with the Boeing 747.

Mitsubishi made the announcement at the Farnborough Air Show in England.

Inslee, who is in Farnborough to push Washington’s aerospace industry, proclaimed Monday “a good day for aerospace jobs in Washington.” Mitsubishi will be bringing about 60 engineers and other personnel to the Moses Lake facility for at least three to five years, he said. AeroTEC will have about 20 engineers plus ancillary staff on site after constructing a new hangar with special electrical equipment.

The MRJ is smaller than any of the jets produced by Boeing so it doesn’t really compete with the state’s largest aerospace manufacturer, he added.

Before Inslee left for the air show, the Department of Commerce released an update on the state’s aerospace industry, which it says has more than 132,500 workers at 1,350 locations around Washington. It reported success on many of its 2013 goals, including making sure the 777X will be built in Washington and attracting new suppliers for several of Boeing’s new planes. 

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