MIAMI — Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have successfully conducted today the maiden test flight of its Regional Jet (MRJ), one step towards the entry into service of a program aimed to compete with Brazil’s Embraer and Canada’s Bombardier in the global market for jet regional aircraft.

After a two-week delay in the first flight due to a defective rudder pedal, the MRJ took off at 09:35 am local from its base located at Komaki Airport (NKM) in Nagoya, commanded by Chief Test Pilot Yoshiyuki Yasumura and Kazuo Toda. The initial flight lasted approximately 1.5 hours in which the aircraft’s basic characteristics and functionality tests were carried out over Japan’s Pacific Coast. An escort plane followed the MRJ to observe the condition and behavior of the aircraft in flight.

The aircraft landed back at NKM at 11:02 local under perfect weather conditions, with clear blue skies and the applause of media staff and invitees to the event. Hiromichi Morimoto, President Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation thanked the ongoing cooperation and support of the parties involved to make the MRJ fly today. “We will make our utmost efforts to obtain the type certificate, and commit all our resources to develop and produce the finest regional jet aircraft ever, to enter commercial service in 2017.”

“The operational performance of the MRJ was far better than expected. We had a significantly comfortable flight” said Chief Pilot Yasumura.

Turbulent Program, Successful Outcome

Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation has delayed the MRJ’s Entry Into Service (EIS) date four times since its launch in March 2008. The first flight, scheduled to take place in the second quarter of 2012 was initially delayed to 2013, and then postponed to Spring 2014 due to engine procurement issues. A third delay moved the first flight date to the second quarter of 2015, with a fourth and final delay “to fully incorporate the verification results of various ground tests and related feedback into the first flight-test aircraft” the company announced last April.

The first flight of the MRJ breaks ground of a planned 2,500-hour flight test program, with the incorporation of five flying prototypes. Slow-taxi tests took place in June while functionality and systems began in September. The static and fatigue testing took place in October. The flight test program in the United States are scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2016, from the MRJ base located at Grant County International Airport at Moses Lake in Washington.

A Challenging Market Forecast

The Entry Into Service of the MRJ will stimulate further the competition for orders, in a market largely dominated by Embraer and Bombardier. In a report from NHK World, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga assured that the government will help Mitsubishi Aircraft to sell the aircraft overseas. Suga also stated that the aviation industry is expected to support the Japanese economy in the future.

Although Japan has gained relevance in the last years as a major aerospace industry player building fuselages, wings and components for Airbus, Boeing and SuperJet International, its experience in aircraft manufacturing is not a novelty. The last passenger airliner built by Japan was the turboprop YS-11, which had just limited success with just 182 aircraft built since its rollout in 1962. A decade later, Nihon Aircraft opted to cease the production, and the company was subsequently liquidated in 1983 after incurring in losses estimated in 36 billion yen ($357.9 million to 2015 dollar value).

The maiden flight takes place one week after the rollout of China’s COMAC C919, an aircraft intended to become a player in the single-aisle market segment, currently under the dominance of the Airbus A320 and the Boeing 737 family aircraft.

At the present date, the MRJ has won 407 orders, including options and purchase rights for the two variants of the aircraft: The MRJ70 (with a seating arrangement for 78 passengers in a standard configuration) and the 92-seat MRJ90, poised to compete directly with the 88-seat Embraer E175 and the 90-seat Bombardier CRJ-900. US-based SkyWest and Trans States Airlines are the largest customers for the MRJ while domestically, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA) have placed orders as well. ANA will become the launch customer for the MRJ once the aircraft (finally) enters into service in the second quarter of 2017.