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MHI to lead on Japan's regional jet

BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE

Kawasaki absent from research programme which could lead to development of indigenous aircraft later this decade

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is poised to lead a regional jet research and development project jointly funded by the Japanese government and local aerospace firms.

The five-year, ¥50 billion ($420 million) R&D project will help Japanese firms decide whether to manufacture an indigenous regional jet that could seat between 30 and 90 passengers. Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) is seeking the second largest contractor role in the programme after MHI. Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) has decided not to submit a proposal for the project.

According to KHI, the firm doubts there is a market for another regional jet. KHI supplies the wing for the new Embraer 170 family, but this relationship did not affect KHI's decision against investing in an indigenous programme.

Proposals are due to be submitted to Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) on 30 April. MHI and FHI were still negotiating last week a workshare formula for the project, although FHI confirms MHI will be the prime.

Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, MHI and FHI will submit proposals separately or jointly. If two proposals are submitted, an independent committee will determine the workshare.

METI says a selection will be made in late May or early June. Work on the project will begin by the end of June. It adds the government has included ¥1 billion in its fiscal 2003 budget to kick off the project. The government is expected to chip in another ¥24 billion over the next four years, with participating firms matching this figure. Budget constraints and Japan's declining economy, however, threaten to derail or delay the project.

Japan has also set aside ¥2.5 million for a one-year feasibility study on the potential development of an engine that could power the new regional jet. Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) is expected to lead this study, which could lead to a separate ¥35 billion joint R&D project.

METI plans to let the manufacturers set the specifications, including seating capacity, for the new aircraft and engine. High performance and environmental friendliness are the only prerequisites.

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