TOKYO – The first made in Japan passenger jet in four decades reaches a development milestone later this week.
A “rolling out” ceremony in Nagoya, central Japan on Saturday will unveil the long awaited Mitsubishi Regional Jet, or MRJ, a fuel-efficient lightweight carbon-fiber composite passenger plane.
Major Japanese machinery maker Mitsubishi Heavy Industries says the MRJ90 will seat 88 people, while the MRJ70 will seat 76, and the planned MRJ100X will have 100 seats.
The plane is billed as fuel-efficient, quiet and green, with a comfortable cabin of relatively wide seats and high ceilings.
The first flight is planned for the second quarter of next year, with test flights to follow totalling 2,500 hours, and the first deliveries are set for 2017.
MRJ has received 191 orders, from All Nippon Airways, Trans State Holdings, SkyWest, Air Mandalay and Eastern Air Line with 184 additional purchase options.
Japan Airlines announced in August it will buy 32 of the jets, with deliveries set for 2021, although the final deal has not yet been inked.
The MRJ is Japan’s first nationally funded, domestically manufactured passenger aircraft since the YS-11, a turboprop airplane that was discontinued in 1973.
Mitsubishi has struggled to obtain orders, and initially attracted almost no interest even though it approached dozens of potential customers.
The regional-jet industry targets mostly North American and European markets, and is expected to be lucrative. But competition is intense, including from the Embraer E-Jet family and CRJ700 and CRJ900 from Bombardier, as well as newcomers.
More than 5,000 deliveries of regional jets are expected over the next 20 years, according to Mitsubishi, whose aircraft division is called Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.
Japan’s regional rival China has two commercial jet aircraft projects underway, the first of which, the ARJ21, is now ready for delivery, according to manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, also known as Comac. The plane, with room for up to 90 passengers, had been promised for 2007, but technical problems led to years of delay.
Comac’s larger single-aisle C919 is even more ambitious, intended to compete with Boeing’s 737 and the Airbus A320, with room for as many as 168 passengers and a range of up to 5,100 kilometres (3,200 miles). The plane’s official delivery date hasn’t been announced.
Mitsubishi and other Japanese manufacturers are longtime partners with U.S. airplane maker Boeing Co., and made main components for the 787 Dreamliner.
But having a home grown jet is a source of pride in Japan, whose prized aircraft creations have included the wartime Zero fighter.
Major automaker Honda Motor Co. is planning its own jet, the HondaJet, its first foray into aeronautics, although it’s much smaller, seating only several passengers. A production model went on display earlier this year, and it’s aiming to go into service next year.
The MRJ engine is supplied by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.