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Mitsubishi Regional Jet stays on course for 2020 debut

President touts design changes as nearly complete, with test flights set for 2018

The planned Mitsubishi Regional Jet remains on track for delivery starting in mid-2020, Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hisakazu Mizutani says.

NAGOYA, Japan -- The Mitsubishi Regional Jet will complete another set of test flights in the latter half of 2018 following design changes, keeping Japan's first homegrown passenger jet in decades on track for delivery starting in mid-2020, the head of Mitsubishi Aircraft says.

The MRJ's delivery date has been postponed five times, most recently in January 2017 for design modifications that involve shifting some equipment and wiring. But a fresh design is within reach, and Mitsubishi Aircraft has resumed production of fittings for the plane, President Hisakazu Mizutani told The Nikkei in a recent interview.

"The wiring redesign will kick off in earnest in 2018," he said.

Mizutani said after becoming president of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries unit in April that the design changes would conclude around autumn 2017. When speaking with The Nikkei, he denied that development had fallen behind schedule, saying that everything was going "nearly as planned."

The president also has spoken of possibly handing off the first MRJs at the end of 2019, but he insists that date "is ultimately an internal target." The company has promised clients an initial delivery date in mid-2020, and will keep its word, he said.

The MRJ needs to receive type certification by that time in order to fly commercially. Around 3,000 hours of flight testing are thought necessary to earn that stamp of approval. Mitsubishi Aircraft says the jet has racked up over 1,500 hours in test flights conducted in the U.S., and Mizutani said additional flights reflecting the design changes will occur in the second half of 2018. But according to Japan's transport ministry, the aircraft is not yet prepared to begin test flights for type certification or undergo review.

Mitsubishi Aircraft has roped in orders for 447 of the jets so far. But 40 of those came from American carrier Eastern Air Lines, which was purchased by rival Swift Air in 2017. Though the Japanese company "continues to negotiate" with Eastern over the MRJs, "it is possible they could cancel" the order for the 40 jets, Mizutani said.

The aircraft developer ended March 2017 in a financial hole of roughly 51 billion yen ($452 million at current rates), and is borrowing from its parent to continue work on the jet.

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