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Jet maker enlists bullet train experts

by Chris Cooper and Kiyotaka Matsuda

Bloomberg

The maker of Japan’s first jet airliner is counting on bullet train specialists to prevent further delays in completing the plane.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. has brought in rail project managers from parent Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to tighten control of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet project and boosted engineers on the project by 30 percent to 1,300, President Teruaki Kawai said in a recent interview.

The moves are to help prevent the development bottlenecks that have slowed the commercial plane’s introduction by about four years.

Mitsubishi Aircraft expects the jet, due to start test flights next year, to challenge Embraer SA and take half of the global market for regional aircraft over the next 20 years. The company has completed a new tracking system that allows it to monitor daily progress toward completion since it announced a third delay in August, Kawai said.

“We’ve added development systems and spent a lot of time plugging in data so we can nail down exactly what’s happening on a daily basis,” he said. “Before, we had to go around asking various people to find out what was the cause of delays.”

Mitsubishi announced in 2008 that it would start building Japan’s first passenger jet but has pushed back the date for test flights three times since then. The company is building 78- and 92-seater planes and has orders for 325 of the aircraft.

The aircraft maker expects global demand for regional jets to be about 5,000 planes over the two-decade period to 2030.

Kawai said he turned to the bullet train experts to help end production delays because they had built a reputation for handling difficult projects and making them work.

MHI took over construction management for Taiwan’s bullet train project in 2002 after the country overturned an earlier agreement with French and German firms following an earthquake in 1999.

Mitsubishi Aircraft, based in Nagoya, also brought in former Boeing Co. and Airbus Group NV employees to help ensure it follows the right procedures for testing and certification, Kawai said.

Airbus and Boeing have also faced repeated delays in launching new planes because supply chains span continents to cut costs and reduce risk.

Airbus reported problems integrating work from Germany and France when making its A380, as differences in software used in the countries led to hundreds of small changes to electrical wiring. The discrepancies snowballed into at least a year’s delay in delivering the world’s biggest passenger aircraft.