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Business

Mitsubishi sends in top guns to pilot struggling subsidiary

Company shoots for 2020 deadline after five delivery delays

An MRJ plane in ANA colors is being prepared at Mitsubishi Aircraft's plant in Aichi Prefecture.

TOKYO -- After five delays on delivering Japan's first domestically built passenger jet, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, parent company of Mitsubishi Aircraft, is determined to meet its new deadline of 2020. To do that, Mitsubishi Heavy head Shunichi Miyanaga has tapped two of his most trusted aides to steer the subsidiary.

Alongside Hisakazu Mizutani, who took over as President of Mitsubishi Aircraft on April 1, Mitsubishi has sent Yuichi Shinohara, a trusted Miyanaga associate, to oversee all development aspects of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet as chief executive officer. 

Mitsubishi Aircraft President Hisakazu Mizutani.
Chief Executive Officer Yuichi Shinohara.

The tandem is tasked to ensure the maiden flight takes off by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Delivery of the first MRJ to ANA Holdings was originally planned for 2013, but has been delayed five times. Now, with the delivery date set for mid-2020, Mitsubishi has its back against the wall.

"Meeting the 2020 date comes before everything. Even more than acquiring new orders," Mizutani has said. The company plans to unveil the MRJ at the International Paris Air Show in June.

Repeated delays have undermined Mitsubishi's credibility. The company has received orders for more than 400 aircraft, including unofficial orders, but ANA -- the customer Mitsubishi tabbed for the plane's initial launch -- has decided to source a replacement aircraft from Boeing. 

Mizutani was known as a tough internal auditor at Mitsubishi Heavy's head office. Shinohara has been a close aide to Miyanaga since his Hiroshima days, where the Mitsubishi leader spent 17 years of his earlier career.

Shinohara is giving more authority to foreign engineers to obtain certification from aviation authorities.

A recent visit to the company's Aichi Prefecture plant revealed only four MRJs being assembled, in a large, assembly facility which has the capacity to produce up to 12 aircraft simultaneously. The company was planning to start manufacturing 10 aircraft a month by 2020, but the latest delay, announced in January, forced the company to postpone mass-production.

The department tasked with the procurement of commercial aircraft, including the MRJ, was charged with strict review of costs from scratch. A design change, which was the cause for the repeated delays, will be finished by fall.

Currently, there are four MRJs undergoing test flights in the U.S.

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