Japan introduces next-generation passenger plane project

On Wednesday, Japan revealed plans to develop a next-generation passenger jet within the next ten years.

The new initiative, a collaboration between the public and private sectors, aims to incorporate "new environmental technologies" like hydrogen or hybrid electrics, according to a statement from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

An economy ministry official revealed the project's goal to produce an aircraft ready for operation after 2035, leveraging Japan's competitive advantages and contributing to reducing air travel emissions, following a closed-door assembly involving politicians, experts, and industry stakeholders.

For the development of the aviation industry, including the construction of the new passenger plane, an estimated investment of five trillion yen ($33 billion) over the next ten years is required.

This renewed endeavor to produce Japan's first domestically manufactured airliner in over 50 years follows the abandonment of a much-anticipated project by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in February 2023. MHI's endeavor to develop a twin-engine aircraft for short-to-medium-haul flights faced setbacks, including technical issues and delivery delays, ultimately leading to its discontinuation.

Kazuchika Iwata, the state minister for economy, trade, and industry, emphasized the importance of Japan's aircraft industry evolving beyond its current role as a parts supplier and positioning itself as a leader in carbon-neutral technologies, including hydrogen.

Meanwhile, China recently unveiled its first domestically produced passenger jet, signaling its ambitions to challenge the dominance of Airbus and Boeing.

Japan's last commercial airliner, the YS-11 turboprop, was introduced in 1962 and discontinued a decade later. Hydrogen fuel presents a promising avenue for Japan's pursuit of carbon neutrality by 2050, although concerns persist regarding the availability of a reliable supply chain for "green" hydrogen derived from renewable sources.

The development of the new aircraft will explore various next-generation technologies, such as hybrid electrics and hydrogen combustion, with the aim of deepening research in this field. However, challenges remain, particularly regarding the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of hydrogen-based aviation.

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