Japan's first commercial jet in half a century made its maiden flight on Wednesday 11 November, in a breakthrough for the country's long-held ambition to establish an aircraft industry that can compete with some of the major players in global aviation.

The Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) took off on a one-hour return flight from Nagoya Airport to test Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp's ability to bring the 100-seat class plane into service after three years of delays.

Locals gathered at the Nagoya airport to watch the jet taking to the air. "So yes indeed we need to support this in order to help develop the Japanese aircraft industry. That's why I was up so early to see this," said one man watching the take-off.

The Japanese government also congratulated the company's success. "The government hopes that they will continue to receive top sales and provide support," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference after the flight.

Mitsubishi says the MRJ burns a fifth less fuel than aircraft of similar size due to new-generation engines from Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.

So far, the MRJ has secured 223 firm orders from airline operators, most recently in January, when Japan Airlines ordered 32 planes. The biggest single order - for 100 aircraft - is from Trans State Holdings, a closely held company that operates three regional U.S. airlines.

The $47m (£31m) MRJ is Japan's first commercial passenger aircraft since the 64-seat YS-11 entered service 50 years ago.