On Sept. 30, the YS-11, a twin turbojet passenger plane, made its last domestic flight — from Okinoerabu Island to Kagoshima. It was retirement day for the aircraft that holds a special place in the history of Japan’s aircraft manufacturing industry.

Occupation authorities had prohibited aircraft manufacturing through 1952, putting Japan at a technological disadvantage. In 1956, engineers who had designed famous warplanes such as the Zero fighter (Zeke) and the Hien fighter (Tony) started designing Japan’s first passenger plane of the postwar years.

The government and private sectors jointly developed the YS-11 with about 60 seats, a length of 26 meters and a wingspan of 32 meters. It made its first flight in 1962. Engineers overcame weak points such as low stability and steering problems. A total of 182 YS-11s were manufactured by 1973.

Its sturdy structure and relatively short takeoff and landing needs lent the plane to the service of remote islands and regional cities. Although nearly 80 YS-11s were exported, Japan Air Commuter Co. decided to stop flying YS-11s after it became apparent that a revision of the Aviation Law requiring installation of a midair collision-avoidance system, beginning in 2007, would make further use of the aircraft unprofitable.

The YS-11 was a commercial failure since Japan had little experience selling aircraft overseas. Sales of the aircraft incurred an accumulated deficit of 36 billion yen. Yet the experience of developing and maintaining the YS-11 helped raise the levels of technology for Japanese aircraft makers. At present, they supply wing and fuselage components for key aircraft of Being Co. and Airbus SAS.

To further upgrade Japan’s aircraft manufacturing industry, the government and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. are developing the MJ regional jet airliner with 70 to 90 seats, with the expectation that the aircraft will go into service in 2012. Up to 4,000 aircraft of the same type are expected to be in demand worldwide. But competition should be tough.

A dedicated effort by both the government and private sectors will be necessary to make the planned aircraft successful both technologically and commercially.

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