Revolutionary Japanese jet set to soar

The lines of the fuselage are sleek while the nose dips purposefully forward; inside, the cabin is more spacious and comfortable than any of its rivals, while the cutting-edge powerplant and components make it one of the most environment-friendly aircraft in the world.

For the moment, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet is only a model standing in the foyer of Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.'s offices in Tokyo, but the first passenger aircraft to be built by a Japanese company since the mid-1970s will be airborne in early 2014 and could revolutionize short-haul flying.

"Studies show that there will be a need for more than 5,000 short-haul passenger aircraft within the next 20 years," said Hitoshi Iwasa, director of the company's Strategic Planning. "Some 40 percent of the total will be required in the North American market, 30 percent in Europe, but 20 percent will be here in the Asia-Pacific market."

All Nippon Airways will be the launch customer for the aircraft and has already ordered 15 of the $40 million jets, with an option for a further 10.

The last time Japan developed a civil airliner was in the early 1960s, but the YS-11 never caught on and the last aircraft rolled off the production lines in 1974. Since then - and while Boeing and Airbus have gone on to control the market for larger passenger aircraft - there has been growth in the market for smaller aircraft servicing regional markets.

Mitsubishi faces strong competition from Canada's Bombardier and Embraer, which is based in Brazil, but Iwasa is confident that Japanese technological prowess gives his company the advantage.

The aircraft will come in several variants, with between 70 and 90 passenger seats, and Iwasa says it has several advantages over its rivals.

The first is that the aircraft is easy on the environment. The new Pratt & Whitney PurePower engines are the most efficient available and burn 20 percent less fuel than other engines, reducing operators' costs dramatically. Emissions of nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and smoke are all significantly lower than the engines of its rivals, while the aircraft's noise "footprint" on take off is less than half of current regional jets.

The second consideration is for passengers, who have been given all the comfort of a far larger aircraft in a small package, according to Mitsubishi, with more head and foot room and larger overhead storage bins.

"We have taken mock-ups of the aircraft to the Farnborough Air Show in 2008 and we will be there again this year, we were in Paris for that air show last year and Singapore earlier this year and the response we are getting from executives is very positive," said Iwasa.

Mitsubishi Regional Jet: www.mrj-japan.com/

Farnborough Air Show, July 19-25, Farnborough, UK: www.farnborough.com

JR

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