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Long-awaited Mitsubishi jet has one last hurdle to clear

Crucial test flights to begin next month in US

The timeline for a mid-2020 delivery of the MRJ is tight.

TOKYO -- Japan's first homegrown jet airliner, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, has received the green light to launch make-or-break test flights in January, the final regulatory challenge ahead of its targeted delivery in mid-2020.

Developer Mitsubishi Aircraft, a unit of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, on Friday won approval from the transport ministry to undertake so-called type certification testing.

The plane, which has been plagued by numerous delays, is currently undergoing in-house flight tests at the company's center in the western U.S. state of Washington. Cumulative flight time has exceeded 2,400 hours.

Pilots from the ministry's Civil Aviation Board will be on board during the test flights. The process for certifying the airworthiness of a plane for its designed purpose involves a long process, beginning with the analysis of blueprints, performance testing with models and the actual plane, strength tests of material and structural components, and finally actual flights to collect and analyze data.

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner took about 20 months to gain certification after starting flight tests. Honda Motor's HondaJet required about two years to become certified.

The MRJ's timeline is tight, having only about 18 months to meet the mid-2020 delivery target. It has already suffered five delays spanning seven years as it is. Preparation for mass production and customer support operations will be accelerated next year.

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