Air Transport World

Modest goals in uncertain times: Japan. (airline-transport manufacturing)

Unlike in its impressive triumphs in the automobile, steel and consumer-electronics industries, Japan is still approaching airline-transport manufacturing very gingerly. Industry officials and people at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) citr declining interest on the part of the government to fund large aerospace prorams, including transport-manufacturing projects, and they believe that Japan's policy will remain one of cautious participation in joint international programs. And for the time being at least, it appears that the Japanese transport-manufacturing industry has selected the Boeing Co. as its preferred companion for moving ahead in a type of "earn while you learn" program.

When Japanese officials begin a discussion with on this subject, they quickly cite the experience of the YS-11, the 60-seat twin turboprop transport that up to now has been the country's only post World War II commercial-transport program. Of the 180 that were built, about 150 are still in service, though some of them entered airline fleets in the early 1960's. Japanese officials are very proud of this but they tell you quickly that they consider the program a failure. "We just didn't know enough about marketing," one official said.

MITI is the government arm that decides what aerospace and other industries targeting products of international trade will receive funding. Hideo Suzuki is deputy director of MITI's Aircraft and Ordnance Division, and he says that Japan really decided in 1986 that is should not attempt to develop its own transport program. He says: "We decide that international cooperation was a better way. There is huge risk in such programs, especially in the development stage and our government is finding it difficult to invest in civil-transport manufacturing."

Another problem, according to another official, is the challenge of market penetration. He said that unseating an incumbent manufacturer is very difficult. He, like Suzuki, feels that international collaborative efforts are Japan's best avenue for participating in the market.

Suzuki says the focus for government funding is ". . . in basic research, and Japan has let research contracts to U.S. and European companies." Several of these were announced last year for work on high-speed civil-transport research. …

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