Japan's First Passenger Jet Is Delayed by Another Year

  • Delivery of Mitsubishi Regional Jet pushed back a fourth time
  • Launch customer ANA had been expecting planes in mid-2017

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. will push back delivery of the first Japanese-made passenger jet by a year, the fourth time it has delayed bringing the Mitsubishi Regional Jet to market.

ANA Holdings Inc., the parent company of All Nippon Airways Co., had been expecting the plane in the second quarter of 2017, but the schedule has been pushed back "approximately one year," Mitsubishi Aircraft said in a statement Thursday. The company identified "several issues" that need addressing, the statement said, without specifying them.

“Whilst this latest delay is very disappointing, we remain confident of the benefits the MRJ will bring to the ANA fleet,” Japan’s largest airline said in an e-mailed statement. “In the meantime, we have sufficient aircraft capacity to meet demand and implement our network plans until the extended delivery date.”

Mitsubishi Aircraft, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., started test flights last month as it pushes ahead with developing Japan’s first new passenger plane in more than 50 years and its first-ever passenger jet. The company competes with Brazil’s Embraer SA and Canada’s Bombardier Inc. in the market for planes with fewer than 100 seats.

Strength Tests

The company will strengthen the plane’s frame and upgrade its software, Senior Executive Vice President Nobuo Kishi told reporters at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Nagoya, Japan.

”Our initial expectations were too optimistic,” Kishi said. ”We found that things that we expected to take 10 days to do took 15 days. Tests that we thought we could do 20 times took 40.”

Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hiromichi Morimoto said the plane’s frame had passed strength tests for normal use, but there were concerns it wouldn’t pass certification tests that check whether the frame can withstand 150 percent of normal use.

”This is Japan’s first new passenger plane in 50 years and on paper everything looked fine,” he told reporters. ”However, when we built it we found places to improve that we hadn’t banked on.”

Sales Impact

News of the delay comes a day after Honda Motor Co.’s aircraft unit said it had begun deliveries of the HondaJet, a seven-seat business plane it has described as a "flying sports car." 

Masao Ueno, a director at AlixPartners consulting firm, said the renewed delay could have a big impact on MRJ sales.

“ANA needs to take the first aircraft as soon as possible, but they also want to make sure the quality is 100 percent,” he said by phone from Tokyo before the Mitsubishi Aircraft briefing. “Japanese companies are serious about quality, and so the MRJ is being delayed to make sure it’s 100 percent ready.”

Mitsubishi Aircraft has received 407 orders, including options and purchase rights, for its two types of planes, which seat from 78 to 92 passengers. Other customers include SkyWest Inc. and Trans States Airlines Inc.

Quiet Ride

SkyWest, which has ordered 100 MRJs, is the biggest customer for the plane. In an e-mailed statement, spokeswoman Marissa Snow said SkyWest’s orders "remain unchanged, and are dependent on flying contracts, scope and aircraft availability."

The plane will use a geared turbofan engine built by United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney unit, which is expected to make the jets at least 20 percent more fuel-efficient than similar planes, the company has said.

Mitsubishi Aircraft estimates the development cost of the MRJ at about 180 billion yen ($1.5 billion). The 92-seat MRJ90 model has a list price of $47.3 million, according to the company.

Japan’s last homegrown passenger plane was the YS-11, a turboprop made by Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Corp., a consortium that included Mitsubishi Heavy. Only 182 of the planes were sold, and the production line was stopped in 1974 after little more than a decade.

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