Japan's first passenger jet makes maiden test flight

Quentin Tyberghien
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Japan's Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) takes off on its maiden test flight from Nagoya airport, on November 11, 2015

Japan's Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) takes off on its maiden test flight from Nagoya airport, on November 11, 2015 (AFP Photo/Kazuhiro Nogi)

Japan's first passenger jet made its maiden test flight Wednesday, a landmark in a decade-long programme to launch the 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 jet -- is competing with other regional passenger jet manufacturers such as Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier.

Hiromichi Morimoto, president of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp -- a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- voiced his delight and relief at the successful flight.

"We were able to see the beautiful fuselage of the MRJ taking off into the sunny autumn sky," he told a press conference.

"The fact that I was able to see that with you, as someone who was involved in its development, there is no greater joy."

Its pilot also praised the jet.

"The operation performance of the MRJ was far better than expected," Yoshiyuki Yasumura said, according to a Mitsubishi Aircraft release.

"We had a significantly comfortable flight."

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 approximately 35-metres (115-feet) long, has a pointed nose and will seat about 80 passengers.

Mitsubishi Aircraft boasts that the fuel-efficient MRJ will offer more passenger comfort with lower operating costs, eyeing the booming regional jet sector.

China is also developing a similar-sized homegrown regional passenger jet, the ARJ21. It had its first test flight in 2008 and the initial commercial delivery is reportedly expected by the end of the year.

- 'Japan's pride!' -

Mitsubishi Heavy would not disclose how much of the aircraft consists of Japanese components, but it is powered by two next-generation engines developed by Pratt & Whitney of the United States.

The company said the US parts are key and have helped it slash operating costs by about 20 percent.

The maiden flight by the Japanese passenger jet 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 told reporters.

"We hope that development for delivery of the first plane will go steadily and both public and private sectors will continue to work towards the success of this project."

On the live streaming website for the flight, one user tweeted: "This is a great achievement."

Another excited user simply wrote: "Japan's pride!"

Firms in Japan were banned from developing aircraft by US occupiers following the country's defeat in World War II.

Mitsubishi Heavy, a military contractor, built Japan's legendary "Zero" World War II fighter jet.

The country slowly started rebuilding its aviation industry in the 1950s, starting with carrying out 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 Heavy unveiled the jet in October last year and has received more than 400 orders.

It plans to make the first delivery to Japan's All Nippon Airways in 2017.

Mitsubishi's short-to-medium-haul regional jet was backed by the Japanese government and a consortium of major firms including Toyota.

Automaker Honda is also developing a small private jet in the United States, which was first unveiled in Japan earlier this year.