CORRECTED-Japan's first passenger plane in 50 yrs makes maiden flight

Wed Nov 11, 2015 12:41pm EST
 
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(Corrects identity of top buyer to SkyWest from Trans States, changes wording in first paragraph)

TOKYO Nov 11 (Reuters) - Japan's first commercial aircraft in half a century made its maiden flight on Wednesday, in a breakthrough for the country's long-held ambition to establish an aircraft industry that can compete with some of the major players in global aviation.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) took off on a one-hour return flight from Nagoya Airport to test Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp's ability to bring the 100-seat class plane into service after three years of delays.

The unit of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the World War Two-era Zero fighter, is hoping the $47-million regional jet will help it oust Canada's Bombardier Inc as the world's second-biggest maker of smaller passenger jets behind Brazil's Embraer SA.

The MRJ is Japan's first commercial passenger aircraft since the 64-seat YS-11 entered service 50 years ago.

The first MRJ is slated for delivery in June 2017 to Japan's biggest carrier, ANA Holdings. Mitsubishi aims eventually to sell more than 2,000 aircraft in the competitive market segment.

So far it has secured 223 firm orders, most recently in January when Japan Airlines asked for 32 planes. The biggest single order, for up to 200 aircraft, was from U.S. regional airline group SkyWest Inc.

Mitsubishi says the MRJ burns a fifth less fuel than aircraft of similar size, thanks to new-generation engines from Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp .

Japan's last attempt to establish itself as a commercial aircraft maker ended in failure. Production of the YS-11, built by a consortium that included Mitsubishi Heavy, finished after only 182 planes were built.   Continued...