TOKYO --- Now that the Mitsubishi Regional Jet cleared a major obstacle with Wednesday's successful maiden flight, it remains to be seen if the first Japanese-made commercial jetliner in 50 years can give the nation's economy a lift.
The plane took off from Nagoya Airport, soaring 4,500 meters at speeds reaching 280kph without incident. "I can feel a great deal of potency in this aircraft," said the pilot, who hailed from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
It "became a reality and flew in the sky, and was pretty much a huge success," said Hiromichi Morimoto, the president of the jet's developer, Mitsubishi Aircraft.
The jet will have a seating capacity of between 70-90 seats. Mitsubishi Aircraft, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, sees demand for 5,000 planes during the next two decades. The company is set to deliver the first MRJ to All Nippon Airways parent ANA Holdings during the April-June quarter of 2017.
Each plane comes with a likely price tag of 4.7 billion yen ($37.8 million). Mitsubishi Aircraft aims to produce 10 MRJs a month in fiscal 2020 and attain profitability.
The MRJ's initial flight came after four years of delays, and the jet still needs 2,500 hours of test flights before earning a type certificate enabling sales to clients. The company plans to make up for lost time by conducting much of the test flights in the U.S.
The new jetliner also faces a hurdle when it comes to maintenance because many small to midsize carriers do not possess repair stations. Some say the YS-11, the previous Japanese-made commercial passenger aircraft, ceased production because of weak customer service. Mitsubishi Aircraft seeks to avoid a repeat of history, especially since Brazilian rival Embraer has built up a worldwide network of repair depots.
Many expect the MRJ to be a boon for the nation's aircraft industry. However, only about 30% of the aircraft's parts are made domestically. The current market for aircraft production in Japan is around 1.7 trillion yen annually. Developing a wide-ranging components industry will be necessary to beef up the market.
Airplane parts carry high added value because they are made to withstand fluctuating temperatures and pressure. They also take a long time to develop due to quality demands. Manufacturers will need the wherewithal to wait upwards of one to two decades to recover initial investments. Training qualified personnel and reducing cost burdens are pressing issues, according to Morimoto. (end of excerpt)
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