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Japan unveiled its first passenger jet today after a delay of almost four years, with a helping hand from bullet-train specialists as it prepares for test flights next year.
Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. displayed the regional jet to the public in Nagoya after three delays as customers including ANA Holdings Inc. and SkyWest Inc. await delivery. Mitsubishi is building 78- and 92-seat versions of the plane, designated MRJ, and plans to conduct its first flight by June. The larger jet will be available first.
Japan and China are leading an Asian race to break the hold of Embraer SA and Bombardier Inc. on the market for small passenger jets. With the Chinese project also delayed, Mitsubishi’s Pratt & Whitney turbofan-engined MRJ will be a test of whether a new entrant can successfully break into the small group of leading aircraft manufacturers. Boeing Co. and its European rival Airbus Group NV dominate the market for larger passenger planes.
“Despite delays, the MRJ is still poised to be first to the regional jet market with a next-generation engine,” said Richard Aboulafia, a vice president of Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant.
One advantage Mitsubishi has is an order book, including options, for 407 jets. All Nippon will be the debut carrier, and three more airlines became customers this year, boosting the tally to six.
While the order book is a good start, Aboulafia said, the MRJ program needs to prove it can be competitive even against the market leader.
Half of Market
Mitsubishi Aircraft targets winning half the global market for regional aircraft over the next 20 years as Bombardier focuses on its new CSeries jets, also delayed, which will be able to carry as many as 160 passengers.
The world fleet of jets seating 70 to 130 passengers will increase to about 6,580 by 2033, from 3,850 last year, as travel demand increases, according to forecasts from Embraer. The Brazilian company is upgrading its jets with new engines to an E2 family to take advantage of rising demand.
China and Russia are also competing for regional jet orders. China will deliver its first ARJ21-700 to Chengdu Airlines by the end of this year, provided the aircraft receives an airworthiness certificate, the China Daily reported in December.
Russia’s Sukhoi SuperJet 100, built by a joint venture between Moscow-based United Aircraft Corp.’s Sukhoi and a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA, started flying commercially with OAO Aeroflot in 2011.
Mitsubishi Aircraft, based in Nagoya, brought in railway project managers from parent Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to tighten control of the regional jet development and help overcome development bottlenecks that slowed the plane’s introduction by about four years. The company has boosted the number of engineers on the project by 30 percent to 1,300, President Teruaki Kawai said earlier this year.
Mitsubishi in 2008 announced plans to build Japan’s first passenger jet and has since pushed back the date for test flights three times. The company expects global demand for regional jets to be about 5,000 planes over the two-decade period to 2030.
Japan’s Honda Motor Co. is developing a small business jet that can seat up to six passengers, and is set to be delivered to customers next year. The company says it’s won two to three years of orders for what it calls a “flying sports car.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Cooper in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kiyotaka Matsuda in Tokyo at email@example.com To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stanley James at firstname.lastname@example.org Jim McDonald, Ken McCallum