Japan's first passenger plane takes to the skies

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, painted with dark blue, red and beige stripes, took off from Nagoya airport under clear skies for a 90-minute test trip yesterday.
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, painted with dark blue, red and beige stripes, took off from Nagoya airport under clear skies for a 90-minute test trip yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Test flight a landmark in programme to win slice of global market for smaller aircraft

NAGOYA • Japan's first passenger jet made its maiden test flight yesterday, a landmark in a decade-long programme to launch a plane aimed at competing with Brazilian and Canadian rivals in the global market for smaller aircraft.

About half a century after the last Japanese-made commercial plane took to the skies, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), painted with dark blue, red and beige stripes, took off from Nagoya airport under clear skies for a 90-minute trip.

After being barred from developing aircraft following World War II, Japan - and its MRJ - is competing with other regional passenger jet manufacturers such as Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier.

The two-engine MRJ marks a new chapter for Japan's aviation sector, which last built a commercial airliner in 1962 - the YS-11 turboprop that was discontinued about a decade later. The MRJ is about 35m long, has a pointed nose and will seat about 80 passengers.

Developer Mitsubishi Aircraft, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy, says the fuel-efficient MRJ will offer more passenger comfort with lower operating costs.

Mitsubishi would not say how much of the aircraft consists of Japanese components, but it is powered by two next-generation engines developed by Pratt & Whitney of the US. The company said the US parts are key and have helped it slash operating costs by about 20 per cent.

The plane's maiden flight stirred excitement at home.

"We very much welcome the success of the first flight as it is a new beginning for the Japanese aircraft industry," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. "We hope that development for delivery of the first plane will go steadily."

On the live streaming website for the flight, one user tweeted: "This is a great achievement." Another user simply wrote: "Japan's pride!"

Firms in Japan were banned from developing aircraft by US occupiers after the country's WWII defeat.

Mitsubishi Heavy built Japan's legendary "Zero" World War II fighter jet. The country slowly started rebuilding its aviation industry in the 1950s, starting with repair work for the US military. It went on to expand its scope to start licensed production of US-developed aircraft for Japan's military. Japanese firms have also long supplied parts to plane manufacturer Boeing.

Mitsubishi unveiled the jet in October last year and has more than 400 orders. It plans to make the first delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways in 2017. The short- to-medium-haul regional jet was backed by the Japanese government and a consortium of major firms including Toyota.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Japan's first passenger plane takes to the skies'. Print Edition | Subscribe