(Yomiuri: November 12, 2015 – p. 11)
The success of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet’s maiden flight on November 11 is spurring expectations that once production of the domestically-manufactured commercial plane gets on track, it could give a boost to the country’s aviation industry.
Japanese heavy machinery manufacturers have long supplied engine parts to Boeing and Airbus. But to the world’s leading aircraft makers, they are only “great subcontractors.” The MRJ sources only 30% of its parts from Japan. Once commercial production perks up, the benefits are expected to spill over to related industries.
IHI supplies engine parts to Boeing and MRJ. In 2014, it expanded the capacity of a production line at its Soma plant in Fukushima Prefecture. “Once commercial production of the MRJ begins, we will be able to receive more orders and can also expect the overall aviation sector to benefit.
Business chances will also grow among midsize manufacturers. Yamato Gokin, a producer of special alloy, is planning to increase shipments by 1.5 times over the next three years, as it eyes the expansion of the global aviation industry. “The MRJ will be a big business opportunity for us,” said a company official.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries produces fuselages for Boeing’s 777. In September, it began construction of a new plant to build the successor model, 777X. The aerospace business generates about 60% of its operating profits.
Honda Motor, meanwhile, expects its recently developed seven-passenger HondaJet to stimulate demand among companies. Toyota Boshoku, a supplier of car seats to Toyota Motor, began production of aircraft seats from the current fiscal year.
Production of aircraft must meet stringent safety standards. Designs cannot be changed easily. But once aircraft manufacturers pick parts suppliers, their contracts span a longer period, including overhaul, maintenance, and repair.
Support from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and other aircraft makers will become necessary to encourage other companies to join the aviation sector and to breathe life into the industry. “Fostering personnel through collaboration between industry, academia, and government will also become indispensable,” said Toru Hyakushima, a researcher at NLI Research Institute.
Gov’t looking to lead sales campaign for MRJ
For the aerospace industry to establish a solid footing in Japan, the backing of the government will also become important.
Following the MRJ’s successful test flight, the government will accelerate its push to raise the international profile of the domestically-produced aircraft. Governments often play a part in clinching deals involving aircraft. “We will offer support through top-level sales,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a November 11 press conference.
The MRJ sources many parts from overseas, which makes it necessary to grow domestic manufacturers of air conditioning, hydraulic systems, and interiors. The government is looking to foster related industries by encouraging companies from different sectors to join the aerospace industry, in addition to facilitating research and development in collaboration with industry and academia and promoting the transfer of defense technology for private sector use. (Abridged)