Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) plans to invite manufacturers to bid next year to lead studies into an indigenous 30-passenger regional jet. It has tentatively allocated half the funding for the project's ¥50 billion ($410 million) research phase.

The country's three principal aerospace manufacturers - Fuji, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries - are expected to submit proposals and would provide the rest of the research money. METI is setting aside ¥1.2 billion from its Fiscal Year 2003 budget to enable work to start in the first half of next year.

It remains unclear whether the 30-seater will eventually be committed to production, but the work will provide a welcome fillip for Japan's civil aerospace manufacturers before activity on a 150-seat airliner is stepped up later this decade.

The bigger aircraft will use technology being developed for the Japan Defence Agency's C-X cargo and P-X maritime patrol aircraft.

Japanese industry sources say METI believes there is a business case for building the 30-seater as a replacement for 2,000 turboprops currently in operation worldwide. It is targeting the lower end of the regional jet market because it thinks indigenous development of such an aircraft will be feasible.

A prototype could be completed as early as 2007. Japan has not produced an airliner since the NAMC YS-11 turboprop in the 1960s.

METI set up a working group in July this year bringing together the country's aerospace manufacturers and airlines to study potential civil applications for C-X/P-Xtechnology (Flight International, 30 July-5 August).

The Aircraft Development Promotion Council will look at ways of leveraging work on the Kawasaki-led programme to help Japan realise its longstanding ambition of becoming a player in the small commercial airliner market.

Although at an early stage, the discussions are focused on the possible development of a family of 100-150-seat airliners that would go into production after 2010. The work could be combined with long-running feasibility studies by Japan Aircraft Development Corporation into the proposed YS-X family of 80-110-seat regional jets.

Source: Flight International