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EDITORIAL | Next-Gen Airplanes Can Boost Aviation Industry, Nat'l Security

Drawing from SpaceJet failures, Japan's aviation plan outlines strong government support, partnering with foreign manufacturers, and public-private cooperation.



Domestically produced small jetliner MRJ (Mitsubishi Regional Jet), developed by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, takes off from the Aichi Prefectural Nagoya Airport on November 11, 2015. (©Sankei by Tomoichiro Takekawa)

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has drawn up a new industrial strategy aimed at developing a next-generation, domestically-produced passenger aircraft. With a target start date of 2035, the project aims to decarbonize the aviation industry by developing passenger aircraft powered by hydrogen or electricity. The aircraft will use hydrogen engines or other innovative propulsion systems. 

The program calls for the investment of around ¥5 trillion JPY (around $32.9 billion USD) from both public and private sources over approximately 10 years. 

Lessons from SpaceJet

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had been developing Mitsubishi SpaceJet (formerly MRJ), which would have been Japan's first domestically produced regional passenger jet aircraft. However, MHI withdrew from the business in February 2023.

Nonetheless, during the development process, MHI accumulated considerable know-how and technology. These can be utilized in the development of the next-generation passenger aircraft. Thus, the new national plan makes a great deal of sense. 

Aircraft today are said to contain around three million parts, so they naturally involve a wide range of related industries. If we could build a resilient supply chain for the domestic aircraft industry, that would also serve to bolster our defense industry's ability to build fighter jets and other equipment. This in turn would be highly significant in terms of Japan's national security. We should be eager to develop such a new growth industry.

METI hopes to create a roadmap to realize this strategy before the end of April. During its implementation, we must be sure to apply the lessons we have learned from the aborted SpaceJet project. 

The flight test prototype of the first domestically produced small jetliner MRJ by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation on October 18, 2014, in Toyoyama-cho, Aichi Prefecture. (©Sankei by Shigeru Amari)

Support and Collaboration

SpaceJet was unable to obtain the "type certification" needed to operate commercially even after undergoing repeated design changes. The project cost ballooned to ¥1 trillion JPY (around $6.6 billion USD). And even though the Japanese government provided ¥50 billion JPY in support, the project had to be scuttled. 

The new strategy notes that, with SpaceJet, multiple factors worked together to contribute to its failure. There was a lack of understanding of the safety certification process, a shrinking target market, and inadequate government support. The view was also expressed that MHI might have been overconfident about its own technology and too cautious in incorporating advanced technology from other countries. 


Consequently, the new strategy calls for collaboration with overseas manufacturers. This will help compensate in areas where homegrown technology and experience are inadequate. Moreover, it envisions collaboration with motor vehicle manufacturers and other companies. The government also plans to provide detailed support for the project through measures like the creation of international standards and the promotion of collaboration between the public and private sectors. 

In the past, not all government-led industrial projects proved a success. Such was the case, for example, with semiconductor promotion policies. If the new strategy is to be implemented, it will be important to again have experts evaluate its feasibility. 

The visibility of Japanese companies in international markets continues to wane. They must accept the challenge of involvement in new businesses and increase their earning power. We also hope that related companies will view the new strategy as an opportunity and aim to turn it into their commercial benefit.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun