Business

Mitsubishi Aircraft to roll out first passenger jet after four-year delay

by Chris Cooper and Kiyotaka Matsuda

Bloomberg

It has almost four years late in arriving. Now, with a helping hand from bullet train specialists, Japan’s first passenger jet is about to make its debut.

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. will unveil the plane in Nagoya on Saturday after three delays as customers such as ANA Holdings Inc. and SkyWest Inc. await delivery.

The company is building 78- and 92-seat versions of the plane, called the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, and plans to conduct the first flight by the end of June. The larger model will come out first.

Japan and China are leading the Asian race to break the virtual duopoly of Embraer SA and Bombardier Inc. in the market for small passenger jets.

With the Chinese aircraft also delayed, Mitsubishi’s regional jet will be a test of whether a new entrant can successfully break into the small group of leading plane manufacturers.

Boeing Co. and its European rival Airbus Group NV lock out the market for larger passenger planes.

“The rollout is a positive development, particularly useful for marketing,” said Richard Aboulafia, a vice president of Teal Group, a Virginia-based consultant. “The MRJ order book is a good start for a new player.” Still, “the MRJ program needs to prove that it can be competitive even up against the market leader.”

Mitsubishi Aircraft wants to take half of the global market for regional aircraft over the next 20 years as Bombardier focuses on its new CSeries jets, which will be able to carry as many as 160 passengers. The CSeries program is also delayed.

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 also 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 jets to Chengdu Airlines by the end of this year, as long as the planes get airworthiness certificates, the China Daily said 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.

One advantage Mitsubishi has is its order book. The company has orders, including options, for 407 jets. Three more airlines became customers this year, taking the total to six. ANA is the launch customer.

Mitsubishi Aircraft, based in Nagoya, brought in rail project managers from parent Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to tighten control of the regional jet development. The company has boosted the number of engineers on the project by 30 percent to 1,300, President Teruaki Kawai said earlier this year. The moves are to help prevent development bottlenecks that have slowed the plane’s introduction by about four years.

Mitsubishi announced in 2008 it would start building Japan’s first passenger jet and has pushed back the date for test flights three times since then. The company expects global demand for regional jets to be about 5,000 planes over the two-decade period to 2030.

The jet is the first Japanese-made passenger plane since the turboprop YS-11 that first flew in 1962 and ended production in 1973. The 60-seat plane was developed by Mitsubishi Heavy, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd, along with the government.

Mitsubishi Heavy, along with Fuji Heavy, also made the legendary Zero fighter planes of World War II.

Honda Motor Co. is also developing a smaller business jet that can seat up to six passengers and is set to be delivered to customers next year. The company says it has won two to three years of orders for what it calls “flying sports cars.”

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