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The government should consider foreign players when it procures air traffic control systems, according to the head of the Japanese operation of Thales, a leading avionics maker based in France.

“We are providing, quite substantially, better systems than any other (maker) in the world, and the open market recognizes it by placing orders to Thales,” Michel Theoval, president of Thales International Japan K.K., said in a recent interview. “For all of the world — except for the U.S. and Japan — we have the biggest share of the market by far.”

The United States accounts for 50 percent and Japan 4 percent of the world market for ATC systems. Both countries are closed to foreign avionics manufacturers, Theoval claimed.

Thales, formerly called Thomson-CSF, is a top runner with a 40 percent share of the remainder of the world market, followed by Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. of the U.S., he said.

In the wake of a near-collision between two Japan Airlines jetliners over Shizuoka Prefecture in January, calls have mounted for a modern ATC system.

The current radar data processing system — the core of Japan’s ATC system — was procured in 1977 from the state-run Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp., the predecessor of NTT Corp.

The system has since been updated solely by the NTT group, with foreign companies excluded from the government procurement. Thus, they say, switching to a totally new system with different software and user interface would involve a great deal of time, labor and risk.

Transport authorities remain reluctant to consider foreign manufacturers.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry has dispatched experts to examine ATC systems in the U.S. and Europe and found the Japanese system to be just as efficient and safe, ministry officials said.

Theoval would not comment on the Japanese system, saying he has little information on its technological details.

But he said he believes his company’s system, which has been exposed to international competition, boasts high automation and is capable of keeping the skies over Europe, where air traffic is far more congested than Japan, safe.

“This is my personal opinion, but (the Japanese government) should give it a try,” he said, noting his company is willing to cooperate with Japanese electronics and avionics manufacturers.

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