The first passenger plane developed in Japan in more than half a century made its debut flight Wednesday, a key step toward the country's goal of competing globally as an aircraft manufacturer.
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, which can seat as many as 92 people, took off at 9:35 a.m. Wednesday with two pilots. A round of applause rang out when the plane landed back in Nagoya at 11:02 a.m. after a flight that took it over Japan's Pacific coast.
Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. has delayed the MRJ's delivery date three times, finally tapping bullet-train specialists to ensure the plane was completed. The company has won 407 orders, including options and purchase rights, for two versions of the plane, with the first models due for delivery to All Nippon Airways Co. in the second quarter of 2017.
"The MRJ has a lot of potential," said Dan Lu, an analyst at JPMorgan Securities Japan Co. in Tokyo."I expect demand for regional jets to increase as more people fly and airlines put smaller jets on some routes."
The launch will intensify competition for orders with Brazil's Embraer SA and Canada's Bombardier Inc.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday the government will help Mitsubishi Aircraft sell the plane overseas.
"I appreciate the government's support and look forward to joint corporate delegations with the government to sell the planes overseas," Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto told reporters when asked later about Suga's comments.
Shares of parent Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. rose 1.8 per cent Wednesday to 625.8 yen, beating the 0.1-per-cent gain in the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average. The company's shares are down 6.6 per cent so far this year, compared to a 13 per-cent-gain in the benchmark.
The white jet with red, black and gold lines along its sides and "MRJ" written on its tail took off into a blue sky with a few clouds, on a brisk fall morning with a light wind. About 350 journalists and guests milled about as helicopters hovered in the air a few hundred meters from the runway. A smaller escort plane shadowed the MRJ, observing the condition of the airframe in flight.
The debut flight comes nine days after China unveiled its first narrow-body passenger jet, the Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China's C919. Japan's trade minister, Motoo Hayashi, hailed the flight as "the beginning of a new era for Japan's aircraft industry."
The company hopes the MRJ can break the virtual lock that Embraer and Bombardier have on the market for passenger jets with fewer than 100 seats. Boeing Co. and Airbus Group SE control the market for larger passenger planes.
With Montreal-based Bombardier focusing on its larger C Series jets, which can carry as many as 160 passengers, Mitsubishi Aircraft sees an opening it could fill.
"In our forecasts we have the MRJ replacing Bombardier as the second-biggest regional jet supplier," said Rob Morris, head of consultancy at Ascend Flightglobal Consultancy.