2013年4月15日 星期一

日本航太製造業力圖東山再起 Japan Re-emerges in the Aerospace Arena With a New Jet


Japan Re-emerges in the Aerospace Arena With a New Jet

TOKYO — As a small boy, Teruaki Kawai watched wide-eyed as American DC-3s took off and landed at a small airport across an inlet from his home on the Hiroshima coast.
Japan’s golden era of aviation, which culminated with the feared and respected Mitsubishi Zero fighter planes, had ended a decade earlier along with World War II. Banned from making planes by American occupiers after the war, then allowed only to make parts for American military jets, Japan’s aircraft industry was a shadow of its former self.
If all goes well this year, Mr. Kawai, now 65 and president of the Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, will preside over Japan’s biggest aviation comeback since the war. In late 2013, the company plans the first flight of its Mitsubishi Regional Jet, a sleek, 90-seat commercial plane that is Japan’s bid to break into the industry’s big leagues after almost 70 years.
“For decades, we were confined to supplying parts for other passenger jets. But we’re finally heading into new territory,” Mr. Kawai said in a recent interview at Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Tokyo office.
Mitsubishi’s comeback was abetted in large part by Boeing’s outsourcing more of its aircraft manufacture to overseas suppliers. As Boeing came to rely on foreign contractors, Japanese manufacturers moved in, designing and supplying some of the jet’s most vital sections.
A full third of Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner is supplied by Japanese manufacturers, including Mitsubishi Aircraft’s parent company, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which makes the jet’s carbon-fiber composite main wings.
Even so, Boeing and Mitsubishi could not be further apart in their approach to jet-building. In contrast to the cutting-edge 787, Mitsubishi’s regional jet uses only a little of the advanced carbon fiber that its parent company supplies to Boeing.
Neither does the regional jet use the volatile lithium-ion batteries that have become a major headache for Boeing, overheating on two planes in January and prompting American and Japanese safety regulators to ground the entire 787 fleet.
Mitsubishi’s caution underscores the importance, to the company and to Japan, of getting the regional jet project off the ground in an industry where reputation for reliability is paramount. That is especially the case, experts say, for a country long absent from the business of making planes, save military jets under license from the United States, and a series of small private jets.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Mitsubishi participated in a consortium to develop the YS-11 plane, a 60-seat turboprop airliner led and largely financed by the Japanese government, which was eager to restart the country’s aviation industry.
Leading the YS-11’s design was Teruo Tojo, one of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter’s original engineers and the second son of Hideki Tojo, the Japanese wartime leader who was executed as a war criminal by the Allies. But with no experience in making civilian jets, Mr. Tojo and his team of engineers struggled with the YS-11’s design.
Burned by the YS-11 flop, Japan shifted its aviation strategy to supplying, and learning from, the largest aircraft makers of the time, of which the largest was Boeing. Japanese suppliers have played an increasingly bigger role in building Boeing aircraft, supplying 15 percent of the 767 jet, 21 percent of the 777, and 35 percent of the 787.
The Japanese government quickly became one of the largest financial backers of those projects, handing out billions of yen in subsidies to help Japanese suppliers develop technology and win lucrative contracts from Boeing. Though the government declines to reveal exact numbers, estimates by researchers at the State University of New York of how much Japan has handed out to 787 suppliers in subsidies and loans over the past decade are as high as $1.6 billion. .
Boeing, which is based in Chicago, outsources its parts manufacturing to pare its investment in research and development, design, manufacturing and also its work force. These Boeing contracts have kept tens of thousands of Japanese workers busy for years, and still account for about 40 percent of jobs in the industry. They also help keep Japanese companies on the forefront of crucial aeronautical technology.
And in a cozy quid pro quo, Japan’s biggest airlines have for years bought their planes almost exclusively from Boeing — an unusual practice among global carriers, which tend to play Boeing off against its rival, Airbus, to negotiate better terms and prices.
“It’s been a ‘you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours’ kind of relationship that made both sides captive to each other,” said Takanori Maema, an aeronautics expert and former engine designer at the IHI Corporation, another major Boeing supplier. “But all along, Japan always aspired to build its own plane.”
At the same time, the Japanese government was ready to give passenger plane manufacturing another try, as it looked in the early 2000s for ways to bolster Japanese exports and revitalize the country’s stagnant economy.
In 2003, it announced bold plans to finance the development of compact, fuel-efficient aircraft. By the mid-2000s, Mitsubishi executives were gearing up to develop a passenger jet. The company placed Mitsubishi Aircraft’s new headquarters in its prewar offices in Nagoya, where engineers designed the Zero.
The Mitsubishi Regional Jet, announced in 2008, is conservative in its use of new technologies and materials.
Still, Mitsubishi’s regional jet boasts about 20 percent in fuel savings compared to similar size Brazilian-built Embraer 190 jets. Much of the fuel economy comes from its use of new engines from the American manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney. The plane’s wings are thinner and are more aerodynamic than those on similar models, also improving energy efficiency. Mitsubishi says newly designed seats on the M.R.J. also offer wider seats than rival aircraft: 18.5 inches across compared with 17.3 inches on Canada’s Bombardier’s CRJ700 series.
The company has 165 firm orders to date for the $42 million jet, and it aims to secure as many as 5,000 orders over the next two decades — a goal some experts dismiss as unrealistic.
It faces well-established rivals like Bombardier and Embraer. The Russians and Chinese are also making inroads into plane-building. By bolstering its aviation credentials, Japan could also keep upstarts in South Korea, Taiwan and China from encroaching on its lucrative Boeing work, which analysts say contributes around a fifth of Mitsubishi’s roughly $5.7 billion aeronautics business.
“As a boy, I didn’t think that Japan would build a plane again,” Mr. Kawai said. “But it’s been over a half-century. It’s high time for Japan to give it another go.”


Yuya Shino/Reuters

東京——川井昭陽(Teruaki Kawai)小時候,會目不轉睛地看着與他在廣島海岸的家一灣之隔的一座小機場,目送美國DC-3s飛機起飛、降落。
那時候,日本航空業的黃金時期,已經隨着二戰的終結,在10年前落下了帷幕。那個時代的頂峰,以令人敬畏的三菱零式(Mitsubishi Zero)戰鬥機為代表。戰後,美國佔領者起初禁止日本製造飛機,後來又只允許日本給美國軍用飛機製造零部件。日本的飛機產業,與過去相比變得十分弱小。
如果今年一切順利的話,65歲的三菱飛機公司(Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation)社長川井昭陽,會給日本航空業帶來一次最為重大的東山再起案例,該公司計劃在2013年底進行三菱支線飛機 (Mitsubishi Regional Jet)的首次飛行。這款設計風格明快的商用飛機有90個座椅,它是日本在將近70年後,再次躋身航空業高端競賽的一次嘗試。
波音公司新型的787“夢想客機”(Dreamliner)中,有整整三分之一是由日本製造商提供的,其中包括三菱飛機的母公司三菱重工(Mitsubishi Heavy Industries),該公司為飛機製造了碳纖維複合材料主翼。
領導YS-11飛機設計的是三菱零式戰鬥機最初的工程師之一東條輝雄(Teruo Tojo), 他也是日本戰時的首相東條英機(Hideki Tojo)的次子。東條英機後來作為戰犯被盟軍執行死刑。但是由於東條輝雄沒有任何設計民用飛機的經驗,他和他的工程師團隊在YS-11的設計上舉步維 艱。
受到YS-11挫敗的影響,日本轉變了本國航空工業的戰略,轉而向當時最大的飛機製造商供應零部件並向其學習,當時最大的飛機製造商是波音公司。日 本供應商在波音飛機的製造中扮演了越來越重要的角色,767飛機的15%,777的21%,787的35%都是由日本供應商提供的。
日本政府迅速成為了這些項目最大的資金支持者之一,投入了數百億日元的補貼幫助日本供應商發展技術,也幫助企業從波音公司贏得回報豐厚的合同。儘管 日本政府拒絕透露具體數字,但紐約州立大學(State University of New York)的研究人員估計,日本在過去10年里向787飛機的供應商提供的補貼和貸款,多達16億美元(約合99億元人民幣)。
總部位於芝加哥的波音公司將零部件生產外包出去,從而逐漸減少其在研發、設計、製造上的投資,並逐步減少勞動力規模。波音公司的這些合同,多年來為 數以萬計的日本人提供了就業崗位,這些崗位至今仍占整個航空工業的約40%。這些合同還使日本公司走在了關鍵航空技術的最前沿。
曾在波音公司的另一家大型供應商IHI公司任工程設計師的航空學專家前間孝則(Takanori Maema)稱,“這是一種‘互惠互利’的關係,讓雙方都離不開對方。但是一直以來,日本都渴望能製造自己的飛機。”
但是,三菱支線飛機號稱和巴西航空工業公司(Embraer)製造的E190飛機相比,可以節約20%的油耗。這兩個機型大小相似。該飛機之所以節 省油耗,主要是因為採用了美國製造商普拉特·惠特尼公司(Pratt & Whitney)的新發動機。和同類型號的飛機相比,這款飛機的機翼更加輕薄,也更加符合空氣動力學,而且還在改善能耗上有所表現。三菱公司稱,三菱支線 飛機上最新設計的座椅還比競爭對手的寬:座寬18.5英寸(46.99厘米),而加拿大龐巴迪公司(Bombardier)的CRJ700系列的座椅寬度 只有17.3英寸(43.9厘米)。
三菱面對着像龐巴迪和巴西航空工業公司這樣一些久負盛譽的競爭者對手。俄羅斯和中國也正在打入飛機製造業。通過提高本國航空業的水平,日本還可以確 保韓國、台灣和中國大陸新崛起的公司不會侵蝕自己從波音公司得來的寶貴項目,分析人士稱,這一部分業務在三菱公司價值約57億美元航空業務中約佔五分之 一。