SEATTLE -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will cut hundreds of jobs in Washington state as it "consolidates all activities back to Japan" and close its U.S. operations for the troubled SpaceJet project, the company said Friday.
"Due to the budget directives, Mitsubishi Aircraft will close its overseas locations and consolidate activities at its headquarters in Nagoya, Japan," company spokesman Jeff Dronen said via email. "This will impact the majority of our employees in the United States."
The Mitsubishi Aircraft U.S. headquarters in Renton will close and flight test operations in Moses Lake will cease, he said.
The four test aircraft that have been flying in Moses Lake will be put into storage and the fifth flight test plane -- the first updated with a new configuration -- will not fly to the U.S. as planned just a month ago, but will stay in Japan.
Dronen said Mitsubishi will retain "a small crew" at Moses Lake to put in storage and maintain the four flight test aircraft there.
Mitsubishi is still working out the details of its budget cuts and did not disclose the precise numbers of employees affected nor whether severance packages will be offered. Dronen said management "will provide this information directly to employees in the coming weeks."
At one point the program supported about 400 jobs flight testing the initial M90 model in Moses Lake, along with a further 200 jobs in Seattle at Mitsubishi's U.S. partner AeroTEC, which provided testing, engineering and certification support.
Mitsubishi is not formally canceling the SpaceJet program, but its future must now be in serious doubt.
A company official who was briefed on the plans Thursday said that the first priority is to achieve the steep budget cuts planned by MHI. After that's done, management hopes to continue analysis and validation activities required for certification of the airplane, he said.
However, it's difficult to see how much progress can be made without flight tests. The Moses Lake site was chosen for flight tests both for its clear airspace -- unlike the limited space in Japan -- and for the expertise available in the state to support certification work.