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Mitsubishi Heavy set to terminate passenger jet project

A Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp. SpaceJet passenger plane is seen at Nagoya Airport in Toyoyama, Aichi Prefecture, on March 18, 2020. (Mainichi/Koji Hyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. plans to terminate the development of Japan's first domestically manufactured passenger jet, sources familiar with the matter said Monday, putting an end to a public-private enterprise launched 15 years ago to make airplane manufacturing a key industry in Japan.

    About 1 trillion ($7.6 billion) had been pumped into the SpaceJet project, officially launched in 2008, but the company suspended it in October 2020 after it was hit by repeated delays due to a lack of expertise and the coronavirus pandemic.

    Mitsubishi Heavy joined forces with Japan's industry and transportation ministries to develop a single-aisle passenger jet with 70 to 90 seats. However, a lack of prospects for commercialization has forced the company to withdraw, the sources said.

    The company has been gradually ramping down development since freezing the project, including closing down its flight test base in the United States.

    The project initially raised hopes among many aircraft parts suppliers in Japan, which were only providing parts to overseas giants such as Boeing Co. and Airbus SA.

    But Mitsubishi Heavy failed to meet its delivery date, which was first set in 2013 and had been postponed six times. It did manage to succeed in its maiden flight in 2015.

    Mitsubishi Heavy said it still maintains about 270 orders for the aircraft as of Monday. It had as many as about 450 orders at one point, but the figure has decreased due to cancellations by airline customers.

    Industry experts have said the company underestimated the difficulty of obtaining a type certificate, a permit necessary for airplanes to fly commercially, from authorities in the United States, a major airplane market in the world.

    Mitsubishi's corporate culture to prefer in-house development, rather than seeking outside help, also contributed to its failure, some of them said.

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