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Aerospace & Defense

Top materials maker Toray halts Mitsubishi jet supply

Aircraft maker will shift to in-house production of carbon fiber tail components

Visitors to the Paris air show in June gaze at the SpaceJet, a rebranded version of the much-delayed Japanese passenger plane. (Photo by Minoru Satake)

TOKYO -- Japanese materials maker Toray Industries will halt production of key components for the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, Japan's delay-plagued attempt to build a globally successful passenger plane, Nikkei has learned.

Toray, the world's leading producer of lightweight, strong carbon fibers, was to supply structural parts for the aircraft's tail.

The company determined it would be difficult to profit from the arrangement, given that deliveries of the jet are expected to be postponed for a sixth time.

Having lost a key supplier, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries -- the aircraft maker's parent -- plans to produce the components on its own. Mitsubishi Heavy says that it has no plans to change the basic design of the jet, and that Toray's decision will not affect the development schedule.

Even so, the supply trouble highlights anew the difficulty of developing a passenger aircraft in Japan. The SpaceJet, which originally went into development in 2008 as the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, would be Japan's first new commercial jet since 1962.

With no clear release date in sight, Toray decided it no longer could maintain the staffing and facilities for the project. Toray's move could trigger further defections among the SpaceJet's many suppliers in Japan and overseas.

Customers also appear to be losing patience. Trans States Holdings, which operates regional airlines in the U.S., recently canceled its order for up to 100 SpaceJets. This wiped out almost one-quarter of Mitsubishi Heavy's orders for the 90-seater model.

Toray and Mitsubishi Heavy have reached an agreement to terminate the supply deal.

The tail components are to be made of a carbon fiber composite. Toray may still supply carbon fiber itself, which offers up to 10 times the strength of steel at just one-quarter of the weight. Mitsubishi Heavy may also compensate Toray for a portion of the latter's development costs related to the jet part.

Toray and Mitsubishi Heavy began jointly developing carbon fiber composite parts in 2001.

Toray also has supplied parts for the plane's test units. But the jet, originally slated for release in 2013, has faced numerous delays as Mitsubishi Heavy struggles to build the technical know-how. The company now looks to delay delivery again from the current target of mid-2020 due to setbacks in securing certification for commercial flights.

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