[TOKYO] Mitsubishi Heavy Corp said it's sticking to the schedule of handing over its first plane in 2018 after issues with the jet's air conditioning ventilator this weekend grounded the plane from further test flights.
Mitsubishi is working with United Technologies Corp, which makes the aircraft's air conditioning, to fix the problem, the Japanese company's spokesman Yuji Sawamura said by phone from Nagoya. ANA Holdings Ltd, operator of Japan's biggest airline, is the launch customer for the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, also known as the MRJ.
After two aborted test flights in as many days following the faulty air-conditioning system, Japan's first locally built passenger jet was sent back to the hangar for checks and fixes, the latest blow to a key aircraft-building program plagued by delays in its delivery schedule. Japan's first passenger plane in nearly half a century aims to compete with the dominance of Brazil's Embraer SA and Canada's Bombardier Inc in the market for planes with less than 100 seats.
"There is a delay in the US test flight, but we are sure that we can still deliver the plane on time in 2018," Mr Sawamura said. Mitsubishi also said it is considering changing the date of a scheduled function at a US test flight centre from the original date of September 9.
Mitsubishi Aircraft, a unit of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, is trying to break the regional-jet duopoly of Embraer and Bombardier. Mitsubishi's MRJ, which can seat as many as 92 people, is getting a boost as Bombardier focuses on building CSeries jets that will be able to carry as many as 160 passengers, rather than renew its lineup of planes with fewer than 100 seats.
Last year, Bombardier sought help for its CSeries jet program, which is more than two years late and US$2 billion over budget. Investments from the province of Quebec and recent orders have given a lift to the program, although discussions with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government aren't expected to reach an aid deal for the company before the fall, Bloomberg News reported in July, citing officials familiar with the talks.
ANA expects to receive a complete and safe MRJ airplane by the due delivery date, spokesman Wataru Yoshioka said.
The MRJ, which made its first flight in November last year, won its first order from a European company in February. Mitsubishi had 407 orders for its new aircraft, including options and purchase rights, as of the end of last year, and its two biggest customers are based in the US.
Japan's last domestically produced commercial aircraft was the YS-11, a turboprop made by Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Corp, a consortium that included Mitsubishi Heavy, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. Production was stopped in 1974 after 182 of the planes were sold.