A new, long-delayed 88-passenger jet from Japan may finally be the right airplane at the right time. More cities in Asia and Europe are seeking to link up with each other and the global air travel network. The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), the first airliner built in Japan since the 1960s, began certification flights last month in Moses Lake, Washington, to satisfy that demand.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' new airliner is testing the skies just as rivals are moving to sell off their manufacturing operations for jets with up to 160 seats.
Boeing is set to buy 80% of Embraer's commercial operations in a joint venture, while Bombardier last year sold control of its C Series airliner project to Airbus and is exploring strategic options for its regional-jet operations.
At stake, particularly in the market for jets with fewer seats, is US$135 billion in sales in the two decades through 2037, according to industry group Japan Aircraft Development.
Bombardier's moves do indeed create opportunities for the MRJ, said Mr. Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst at Teal Group. It's the biggest single factor in the MRJ's favor.
With few seats and smaller fuselages, regional jets are a different class of aircraft from larger narrow-body planes such as Boeing's 737 or Airbus's A320. The MRJ has a range of about 2,000 miles (3,219km), while a smaller variant can haul up to 76 people for about the same distance.
A long-time supplier of aircraft components to Boeing, Mitsubishi Heavy is developing the MRJ to emerge from its customer's shadow. After spending at least US$2 billion over more than a decade, the manufacturer is looking to get its jet certified and start deliveries to launch partner ANA Holdings.
Mitsubishi initially planned test flights in 2012 but blew past that deadline because of production difficulties. Now, the company, which makes ships, nuclear power plants and aerospace components, expects to have the plane ready for customers next year, a timetable that will test the company, said Mitsubishi Aircraft president Hisakazu Mizutani.