Can Japan Rebuild Strategy to Turn It Into Growth Field?

The aircraft industry involves numerous related parts manufacturers and is an important field that also affects national security. In order to strengthen the foundation of the industry, the government should rework its strategy and turn it into a growth industry.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has established an expert panel to discuss issues and strategies for the aircraft industry. It is said the panel will work to verify the circumstances that led to a halt in the development of the Mitsubishi SpaceJet (MSJ), a domestically produced passenger jet, and will compile a new growth strategy for the industry by the end of this fiscal year.

Under the government’s initiative, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. decided in 2008 to commercialize the domestic jet. However, delays in parts procurement and design changes in wiring among other factors repeatedly postponed deliveries.

In February, the company gave up on continuing development of the jet, particularly due to the difficulties in obtaining the type certificate that is necessary to put the aircraft into service in the United States and Japan.

It was a huge project in which MHI had invested about ¥1 trillion, and the government had also provided ¥50 billion in subsidies. It is important to examine the factors behind the failure and make use of them in the future.

Why was MHI unable to obtain a type certificate? Was the government’s support sufficient? Without thorough verification, even if there is a second attempt, the same mistakes might be made.

Aircraft have far more parts than automobiles, and the industry has a broad base. If the industry grows, it will have a large ripple effect on the economy, including the creation of jobs.

Japan has a competitive edge in parts such as engines, wings and fuselages. First of all, it will be important to make parts manufacturers stronger.

Global demand for aircraft has temporarily decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but will likely increase in the future, especially in Asia. Demand is mainly expected to grow for small-sized jets.

However, under the current circumstances, Japanese makers’ parts are mostly used in midsize and larger aircraft, such as U.S. manufacturer Boeing Co.’s 787 aircraft. The models for which Japanese components can be used should be expanded to include smaller aircraft.

In the field of aircraft equipment, such as systems and interior designs, Japanese companies have a low market share. The reliance on imports for equipment was a factor in the MSJ’s development delay. Strengthening this field is also an important task.

Amid decarbonization efforts, global trends toward the introduction of next-generation aircraft, such as hybrid planes that use both engines and motors, are accelerating. The government should set out a clear strategy to help Japanese companies respond to this trend.

The strength of the aircraft industry is closely related to security. Japan has agreed with Britain and Italy to jointly develop the next generation of fighter jets. From Japan, MHI and IHI Corp. among others are said to be participating in the project. It is hoped that this will lead to enhanced technological capabilities for the country, in part by using the experience of developing the MSJ.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 26, 2023)