The prototype Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), which can seat up to 90 passengers, was in the air for about 90 minutes as the crew tested basic navigation functions such as ascent, descent and left and right turns.
The 35.8-meter-long aircraft took off at 9:35 a.m., opening a new chapter in Japan's aviation history. The last domestically produced passenger aircraft, a turboprop YS-11, made its maiden flight in 1962.
In addition to about 25 engineers and mechanics, 400 or so people--representatives of companies involved in the project, local municipal mayors and reporters--packed the parking apron to witness the moment.
Claps and cheers erupted as the prototype MRJ took off.
A rush of orders from airline companies from around the world would make the aircraft a game changer for Japan’s aviation industry, which has served primarily as parts supplier for U.S. and European manufacturers.
It took seven and a half years for Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp., the jet’s developer, to get to this point. Full-fledged development started in 2008.
The first test flight was delayed for more than four years due to design changes and delays in parts procurement.
Mitsubishi Aircraft will continue test flights in the United States to ensure air worthiness and make improvements. It plans to start delivery to airline companies from spring 2017.
The MRJ, boasting high fuel efficiency, outstanding cabin comfort and a maximum flight range of more than 3,000 kilometers, will come in two models: one able to accommodate 90 passengers, like the prototype, and the other with seating for 70 passengers.
The catalog price for a 90-seat model is US$47.3 million.
Mitsubishi Aircraft has already received orders for 400 aircraft from six Japanese and foreign airline companies, including All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA). It has set a goal of 2,500 orders, or half of the demand for small-sized jets, called “regional jets,” in the next two decades.
Total development costs came to nearly 300 billion yen (US$2.44 billion), which was partly covered by the government.
In addition to the top shareholder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Toyota Motor Corp. and the government-owned Development Bank of Japan have stakes in Mitsubishi Aircraft.
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