Teruaki Kawai, president of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp., had long waited for the moment when his firm unveiled the Mitsubishi Regional Jet — the first passenger jet built in Japan in more than half a century.

“We have finally come to the starting line,” the 66-year-old said in front of about 500 participants at a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the twin-engine aircraft in the town of Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture in October.

The MRJ is the first Japanese-developed aircraft since the YS11 propeller airplane that made its first flight in 1962.

The MRJ, which is about 35 meters long and can accommodate 70 to 90 passengers, needs about 20 percent less fuel than conventional passenger jets of the same size built by rival companies.

Japan’s major carriers — All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. — have already submitted orders for the MRJ. The central government, meanwhile, has decided to provide subsidies for development.

With demand for small passenger jets increasing worldwide, the global market is widely expected to grow significantly, following the path of the automobile industry.

“I hope to establish an aircraft industry in Japan,” Kawai said in an interview.

A native of Hiroshima Prefecture, as a child Kawai often went to see airplanes in flight to and from Hiroshima’s airport.

At senior high school, he aspired to develop an airplane and studied aeromechanics as a graduate student at Kyoto University.

After joining Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., he mainly engaged in the development of business aircraft.

He took the helm of Mitsubishi Aircraft in Nagoya, a Mitsubishi Heavy subsidiary developing the MRJ, in January 2013.

“The development process didn’t always go smoothly,” he said.

Mitsubishi Heavy decided to build the MRJ in 2008 and initially planned to get it in the skies in 2014.

But Kawai had to announce in August 2013 that completion would be postponed for a third time due to changes in parts procurement.

He said his next challenge is to make sure the MRJ’s first flight — scheduled for this spring — is a success.

Kawai said there are still many things to be done before the flight, including checking the conditions of engines and controlling equipment.

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