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Honda soars ahead in Japanese passenger jet race

HondaJet enjoys healthy demand while Mitsubishi Regional Jet stuck on tarmac

Honda's seven-seater business jet is riding high on demand from wealthy clients.

TOKYO -- Honda Motor has zoomed past Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the competition to build a distinctive Japanese passenger jet, capitalizing on upper-class demand with its business craft while the Mitsubishi Regional Jet languishes in development.

The Japanese automaker delivered 24 of its HondaJet miniature craft to customers in the January-June period, outstripping rivals like America's Cessna in the sector. The jet seats just seven including the crew.

Company founder Soichiro Honda had envisioned making such jets practical as a business. The HondaJet's airframe and engine were in development for about three decades. The line debuted at the end of 2015, and a U.S. subsidiary assembles four of the craft monthly on average. Honda plans upgrades to lift capacity to six or seven per month around 2019.

The Mitsubishi Heavy group's MRJ, which seats 70 to 90 people, is geared to capture demand from low-cost carriers. The jetliner's maiden flight took place in 2015, but delivery of the first finished craft has been delayed five times, and is now set for mid-2020. Budget airlines are expanding operations, and demand for planes seating around 100 is strong. But the company received no orders for the MRJ at air shows this year.

A direct comparison between the efforts of Honda and Mitsubishi Heavy is impossible due to major differences in intended use, target customer base and difficulty of development. But next to Honda, which seized on a rise in demand just as its craft was completed, the struggles of the MRJ are apparent.


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