After 50 years, Japan set to launch a new commercial passenger jet

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Mitsubishi's MRJ launched at event in Nagoya on Saturday

Narrow-bodied plane is first new passenger jet from Japan in more than 50 years

Will begin test flights in 2015, commercial operations in 2017

CNN  — 

Japan is set to make its mark in the skies with its first new commercial jet in more than 50 years, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, or MRJ.

Since Japan’s last commercial passenger plane was flying routes across the nation, the country has led the world in high-speed rail and established a significant aerospace industry – but it’s taken a back seat when it comes to original aircraft development.

That’s set to change with the narrow-bodied MRJ.

It was rolled out at Saturday’s launch event, complete with a stirring taiko drum performance at the Komaki Minami plant in Nagoya, where one of Mitsubishi’s most famous aircraft was developed: the A6M “Zero” World War II fighter plane.

The last commercial Japanese plane to operate was Mitsubishi’s YS-11, a turboprop aircraft built between 1962 and 1972. It had been hoped the YS-11 would revive the Japanese aviation industry, but only 180 were sold, 99 of them in Japan.

Obstacles overcome

The project to develop the MRJ began in 2008. Speaking at the event, Hideake Omiya, chairman of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said numerous problems and obstacles had to be overcome during the plane’s development.

“We had to be prepared to bear the risk that could jeopardize our company’s foundation. Going forward this jet will fly to every corner of the world. This is the moment of dreams come true.”

Composites are used in the construction of the MRJ, which will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW1200G engines. The jet will be available in two iterations, the 70-seat MRJ70 and 90-seat MRJ90. It has a pointed nose that wouldn’t be out of place on a bullet train.

ANA is the launch customer for the four-seats-abreast plane, with 15 firm orders.

At the rollout event on Saturday, Shinichiro Ito, president and CEO of ANA, said the company is “determined to help ensure the MRJ becomes an aircraft loved and appreciated by our passengers.”

Five MRJs will begin test flights in the second quarter of 2015, with commercial operations set to launch in 2017.

Going up against Embraer and Bombardier in the narrow-bodied-jet sector, Mitsubishi says six airlines have more than 400 MRJ planes on order or with options to purchase: ANA, JAL, Air Mandalay, Sky West, Trans States, and a relaunched Eastern Air Lines.