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Editorial: Leveraging the MRJ to bolster Japanese industry

  • 2015-11-13 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: November 13, 2015 – p. 2)

 

 The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ), the first Japanese-developed passenger jet, has taken to the skies for the first time, heralding the start of a new era for Japan’s aviation industry. Aircraft draw on a wide-range of supporting industries and have high growth potential; thus they are a critical strategic area for Japan. We would like to see the MRJ succeed as a business.

 

 Passenger jets comprise more than 1 million components and can be considered the finest example of industrial technology requiring advanced safety and reliability. Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, initiated development of the MRJ in 2008. After much trial and error, the company’s passenger jet has finally completed its maiden flight. This is significant.

 

 That having been said, this does not mean the MRJ is guaranteed success. The MRJ, a small plane seating 70 to 90 people, is designed for local flights for which there are not many customers. The Japanese jet’s rivals are two companies already in the field: Embraer SA of Brazil and Bombardier Inc. of Canada. Russian and Chinese manufacturers are expected to enter the market as well, so the MRJ will face harsh competition.

 

 Now Mitsubishi Aircraft faces the tasks of gaining flight approval for its jet from national aviation authorities around the world through flight tests and then delivering the model on schedule in spring 2017. Development work is already four years behind the original plan, and we would like to see further delays avoided.

 

 It is also critical that Mitsubishi Aircraft put in place systems for production, sales, and maintenance services at the same time. The propeller-driven YS-11, the first Japanese-developed passenger jet in the postwar period, was fairly highly rated for its technology, but it ended up being a commercial failure because production costs were not kept under control and its overseas sales and maintenance network was poor. These are valuable lessons for the MRJ.

 

 It is generally thought in the passenger jet business that “at least 1,500 planes must be sold for a model to be a success.” The MRJ has already received orders for about 400 planes from Japanese, U.S., and Myanmarese airline companies. We would like to see it leverage its maiden flight to increase orders from around the world, including Asia. It is important that Mitsubishi Aircraft seek business not just from airline companies but also from aircraft-leasing companies, which have a big impact on the market.

 

 The aircraft business has a big ripple effect in other fields. Aircraft have much state-of-the-art technology, such as carbon fiber, which is first used in aircraft and later in automobiles among other things. In the beginning, only 30% of the components used in the MRJ will be domestically produced as Japan’s aircraft industry has insufficient depth. We would like to see Japanese industry strengthened overall by gradually raising that percentage.

 

 The national government will also play an important role. Sales promotion by national leaders and institutional finance to bolster exports will likely be necessary. We must not forget that aviation technology is also strongly linked to a nation’s security.

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