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Sky's the Limit

The first passenger jet made in Japan for fifty years has been unveiled in Aichi Prefecture. Aichi is known as a center of auto manufacturing and is the base for Toyota and many of its affiliates. Pegging their hopes on a domestic aircraft industry, some car-related companies are tooling up for new growth opportunities. NHK WORLD's Hiroko Matsuzaki has the story.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, or MRJ, is on display in Aichi Prefecture. The aircraft is the fruition of a long-held desire to gain a place for Japanese manufacturers in the commercial jet industry.

"This world-class, made-in-Japan product has finally become a reality."
Hideaki Omiya / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

The MRJ can carry between 70 and 90 passengers and has good fuel-efficiency. It is expected to fly short distances in developing countries, where demand is high. Mitsubishi has already received more than 400 orders from airlines within and outside of Japan.

Many auto-parts manufacturers expect the domestic aviation industry to grow once mass production begins.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi is one of them. He runs a metal processing firm.

"I'm so excited!"
Hiroshi Yamaguchi / Asahi-Seiki Manufacturin

Yamaguchi's firm, Asahi Seiki, will process parts for the main wings of the MRJ. Yamaguchi plans to shift his company's focus from car parts to aviation. Its precision technology already allows it to supply parts for the main wings of the Boeing 787 aircraft.

The aviation sector now accounts for 10 percent of total sales for the firm. The company will invest about 17-million dollars in a new plant to manufacture parts for the MRJ. It hopes to double aviation-related sales within the next few years.

"I expect demand for aircraft parts to surge and I don't want to miss this opportunity."
Hiroshi Yamaguchi / Asahi-Seiki Manufacturing

The MRJ is marketed as a made-in-Japan aircraft. But in reality, Asahi Seiki is one of only a few domestic parts suppliers. Most of the MRJ's 3 million parts, including the engines, are manufactured outside Japan.

Other auto-parts makers are also hoping to make inroads in the aviation industry. But with business prospects still limited in Japan, some are looking abroad.

Companies participating in this trade fair are presenting cutting-edge technology to overseas aircraft manufacturers.

These companies are now waiting to see if the MRJ manages to kick-start Japan's airplane industry.

Once it does, they hope experience gained by selling parts abroad will give them an advantage as they work to expand market share in Japan.

The MRJ's first trial flight is scheduled for April. The aircraft is expected to start carrying paying passengers in three years.

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