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2015年11月14日 (土)

MRJ初飛行 航空機産業の裾野を広げたい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
MRJ’s maiden flight must lead to broader horizons for aircraft industry
MRJ初飛行 航空機産業の裾野を広げたい

Japan’s first domestic-made passenger jet has successfully completed its maiden flight.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet has been developed by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. It is the first commercial aircraft to be made in Japan since production of the YS-11 turboprop airliner started about half a century ago.

We hope this will be a golden opportunity to invigorate the domestic aircraft industry.

The MRJ is a small plane built for short-distance flights linking cities. Its main selling points are a lightweight body and a new-type engine that has superb fuel efficiency. These features have made the MRJ about 20 percent more fuel-efficient than similar models produced by its competitors. The first delivery of the MRJ is set for 2017.

The global market for small passenger planes is expected to grow rapidly. In the next 20 years, demand is expected to top 5,000 jets, especially in emerging economies such as nations in Southeast Asia that are experiencing sizzling economic growth. The MRJ aims to capture orders for half of this market.

A string of design changes and other factors resulted in the MRJ’s first flight taking to the skies about four years later than initially scheduled. During this time, the MRJ’s superiority over its rivals has undeniably been eroded.

At present, Bombardier Inc. of Canada and Embraer SA of Brazil dominate the market for regional jets. The key to the MRJ’s success will be how it can break the stranglehold these companies have on the market.

Give companies support

Orders have already been received for more than 400 MRJ planes. Overseas sales promotions by top-ranking government officials will be essential to rake in more orders.

If more orders are locked in, the MRJ can be expected to nurture a core industry that will be a driving force for Japanese economic growth.

Major companies in Japan’s aircraft industry, such as Toray Industries and IHI Corp., have participated in developing passenger jets for Boeing Co. of the United States. They have refined their technologies while supplying carbon fiber parts for main wings and other components. It is vital for the expertise fostered by these large companies to be spread to small and midsize businesses.

In specific terms, we hope the proportion of domestically made parts in the MRJ — which is currently stuck at about 30 percent — will be increased as much as possible. Each MRJ is made from about 1 million parts, which is 30 times the number of parts contained in a car. There is wide scope for expansion in this industry.

It is necessary to encourage small and midsize companies possessing excellent technologies to enter this market, and to bring together the might of Japanese manufacturing.

Aerospace Iida established in the Iida district of Nagano Prefecture is a cluster of small and midsize precision-machinery and processing companies working on the development of parts for cockpits and wings. Some parts produced by them have been used in the MRJ.

“Whether we can provide high-quality parts at low cost will be key,” according to a company in Aichi Prefecture that makes the frame of the MRJ tail.

The government and large companies that are prime contractors will need to work together and support small and midsize firms with proven records in producing car parts and other components, such as by offering technical guidance tailored to the production of aircraft.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 13, 2015)


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