Japan jets into regional plane market, eyes more Boeing business

Tue Mar 12, 2013 5:04pm EDT
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By Tim Kelly

TOKYO, March 13 (Reuters) - The venture building the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), Japan's first commercial aircraft in half a century, predicts the market for 70-90-seat jets could be as many as 5,000 over the next two decades - almost double the forecasts of the two big specialist regional jetmakers, Brazil's Embraer and Canada's Bombardier.

The new Japanese plane, set to take flight this year and begin delivery in 2015, may, say industry experts, be aimed as much at winning more aerospace jobs for Japan from traditional partner Boeing Co than at being a compelling profit proposition.

"We'd like to capture about half the 5,000 aircraft market," Teruaki Kawai, CEO of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp, told Reuters.

That forecast is also 2,000 planes more than predicted by the Japan Aircraft Development Corp (JADC), which is chaired by Hideaki Omiya, CEO at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) , 60 percent-owner of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.

"It's an unrealistic top-line number," said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with the Teal Group in Virginia.

The official sales target of the venture, in which Toyota Motor Corp is a significant shareholder, is for more than 1,000 MRJs. Asked about the disparity in the forecasts with those of its main rivals and its own industry lobby, a spokeswoman for the MRJ venture said its outlook was based on its own data, without explaining how it reached that figure.

Rather than making money, though, the MRJ may prove its worth by making friends.