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Time, it seems, is sounding the final death knoll for the YS-11, Japan’s only domestically produced passenger aircraft.

Once a mainstay of the domestic air service, the 60-seat twin turboprop is being phased out from the nation’s air routes as a new generation of passenger aircraft takes to the skies.

On Sunday, the YS-11 will retire from two Hokkaido air routes served by Air Nippon, one of two regional airlines still operating a small fleet of the aging planes.

By October next year, all five remaining YS-11s that Air Nippon operates in Hokkaido are scheduled to go out of service, to be replaced by new turboprop aircraft.

Japan Air Commuter, a regional carrier that operates 12 YS-11s in Kyushu, plans to retire its entire YS-11 fleet in four years — marking the end of an era in Japan’s postwar commercial aviation history.

The YS-11 came into service in 1962 as the first commercial aircraft developed in Japan. Altogether, 182 YS-11s were built until production ended in 1972.

While still flown by the Self-Defense Forces and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the sighting of YS-11s has become a hobby among plane-spotters around the country.

Camera-toting fans are a constant feature at Okadama airport in Sapporo, a main gateway where YS-11s still regularly provide short-haul services in Hokkaido.

To mark the impending end of YS-11 flights on the Sapporo-Monbetsu and the Sapporo-Kushiro route, Air Nippon has arranged “YS-11 tours” for the last YS-11 flights on the two routes Sunday, and officials say both tours have been fully booked.

At Japan Air Commuter, officials also say there has been an increase of customer inquiries about YS-11 flights.

“There must be lots of YS fans out there, and I think public interest on the YS plane will keep on growing,” a JAC official said.

According to Kazuhiro Takeuchi, an official at the Air Nippon office at Okadama airport, there is no structural problem with the YS-11 despite its long years of service.

Air Nippon is switching to newer models, he says, “because we don’t want to spend big money on fuel and maintenance costs.”

Another important factor contributing to the demise of the YS-11, according to Air Nippon and JAC officials, involves air-safety measures imposed by the transport ministry.

Under transport ministry guidelines, all YS-11 aircraft must be equipped with the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System by October next year.

For carriers that cannot meet the deadline, the ministry has allowed them a four-year grace period with a less sophisticated collision warning system. After that, all commercial aircraft without a TCAS would have to be retired.

Fitting a digitized TCAS into the cockpit of a YS-11, where all avionics were designed in the predigital age, costs more than 100 million yen.

Faced with such extra costs, hard-nosed executives at Air Nippon and JAC would probably be forgiven if they decide to phase out their dwindling YS-11 fleet.

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