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Japan’s efforts to fly home expatriates from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, is unlikely to involve government planes despite earlier plans to the contrary.

The government has relied solely on charter flights for their superior transport capacity and the perceived reluctance of China to permit the landing of the government planes flown by the Air Self-Defense Force.

The government owns two planes, one of which is used by the prime minister and other dignitaries for flights abroad. The planes are also deployed in emergencies, such as for transporting Japanese and taking part in international aid efforts.

Use of the state planes was originally considered to expedite the evacuation of Japanese citizens from Wuhan.

“It’s a chance to show our cooperation,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

But the idea has since raised several issues.

One is capacity. The government planes can only carry about 100 people at a time, while the commercial planes can carry nearly 200.

Also, sources say that SDF-run planes would have met resistance from China.

“The Chinese government considers government planes to be ‘military aircraft,’ and is thought to be unwilling to let them land,” a government source said.

The Japanese government has instead relied exclusively on commercial planes to repatriate 763 Japanese in four trips. With only a few Japanese left in Hubei province, where the outbreak began in Wuhan, the government is considering negotiating with the Chinese to let them move to other regions that still have regular flights to Japan.

“At this rate, (the government planes) are unlikely to see action,” a Defense Ministry source said.

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