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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

Pratt & Whitney picked by MHI for new jetliner


Staff writer

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. said Tuesday it has chosen Pratt & Whitney of the U.S. to supply the engines for its planned regional jets, taking Japan a step closer to building its first domestic commercial aircraft in about four decades.

The 70- to 90-seat plane, called the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, will be powered by Geared Turbofan engines, a next-generation model that will give the plane greater fuel efficiency and lower noise and greenhouse gas output than conventional regional jets, the companies said.

The MRJ will be the first commercially produced plane in the world to use the new engines.

"The good news for MHI is that the MRJ will be the first aircraft to have it and it will capture more of the market because it is the first to market with this new technology," Pratt & Whitney President Stephen Finger said at a joint news conference at Mitsubishi Heavy's head office in Tokyo.

The government has high expectations for Japan resuming commercial aircraft production, which ended with the termination of the propeller-driven YS-11 in 1973 due to lack of demand.

"(Domestic production) of passenger aircraft has been a long-cherished dream of both the government and businesses," Mitsubishi Heavy President Kazuo Tsukuda said.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has so far requested ¥15.7 billion for the fiscal 2008 budget to support the ¥150 billion project. Tsukuda said he hopes to receive about ¥50 billion.

But the government has not committed itself to a specific amount of subsidies.

The so-called GTF engine will make the planes 20 percent to 30 percent more efficient and about 15 percent cheaper to operate. It will also halve the jet's noise output when compared with similar planes.

There will be two models — the MRJ 90, seating 86 to 96 people, and the MRJ 70, seating 70 to 80. Both will be capable of flying anywhere within Japan or between Paris and other major destinations in Europe.

With the MRJ expected to cost between ¥3 billion and ¥4 billion each, Mitsubishi Heavy believes the global market for the small commercial jets could surpass 5,000 in the next 20 years. The company is hoping for a share of around 1,000.

However, given the huge development costs and climbing competition, it will not be easy for Mitsubishi Heavy to break into the commercial jet market.

"We are aware of the risks involved in the project, but if we miss this chance, there will never be another," Tsukuda said.

Several Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., are long-term suppliers to Boeing Co.



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