JAL President Says "Flying Cars" are not the vehicles of the future, July 7 at 20:18

"The 'flying car' is not the vehicle of the future, it is the vehicle of tomorrow,"

says Yuji Akasaka, president of JAL = Japan Airlines. The company is currently working on the practical application of flying cars.

In 2020, the onslaught of the new coronavirus swept the world. The demand for air travel around the world disappeared, and people disappeared from the terminals.

Three years have passed since then. How has the environment surrounding business changed? And what are we trying to tackle anew? I asked President Akasaka.
(Economic Affairs Department, Tomoka Miyoshi)

Changes in demand through the Corona disaster

Yuji Akasaka, president of Japan Airlines.

He studied aeronautical engineering at graduate school and joined the company in 1987. After 30 years of career as a "maintenance field", he was appointed president in 2018.

We went through a long tunnel of the corona disaster as if the demand for aviation had evaporated. Demand for international flights this summer has recovered to about 70% of what it was before the Corona disaster.

Domestic flights recovered to pre-pandemic levels on the back of strong tourism demand.

How has the environment surrounding business changed since the Corona disaster? President Akasaka talked about the changes in business demand brought about by the new way of working that has taken root due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Akasaka: "The business demand of Japan people has not fully returned to pre-Corona, with 7% in Japan and 5% overseas compared to pre-Corona. The track record of being able to do business sufficiently with remote work and web conferencing has become established. This is unavoidable. I think we must also think about management on the premise that this situation will continue in the future."

Are foreign tourists on the Shinkansen?

As a pillar to replace the business demand that never returns, President Akasaka is focusing on "inbound demand" and "regional routes" from foreign visitors to Japan.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan in June was estimated at 6.207 million.

In the six months since January, the number of visitors has reached 1.1071 million, exceeding the 2019 million mark for the first time in four years since 4.

Inbound tourism has been driving tourism demand before the coronavirus, but surprisingly, President Akasaka feels that he has not fully incorporated the benefits.

Akasaka: "Actually, there are not that many foreign tourists who fly to rural areas, and the Shinkansen is very popular, and there are many people who want to take the Shinkansen when they go to Japan or take the Shinkansen to Kyoto, but there are not so many people who go to Hokkaido or Okinawa by plane. If we can create demand for more people to fly to rural areas, I think we will be able to make up for the slight decrease in business demand."

"Flying cars" connecting regions

On the other hand, they are also trying to take on the challenge of new business.

President Akasaka has high hopes for "flying cars."

Japan Airlines aims to commercially operate flying cars using aircraft from German manufacturers at the Osaka-Kansai Expo to be held in two years.

What exactly is this flying car?

According to the government, there is no legal definition of a "flying car," but it is considering expanding its introduction of the next-generation air transportation that is easy to use and sustainable, such as utilizing electrification and automation technologies and performing vertical takeoff and landing.

The size of the aircraft planned to be used by Japan Airlines is 2.5 meters high and more than 11 meters long. It is a two-seater with a maximum speed of 2 km / h.

Takeoffs and landings can be done vertically, and there is no need for a long runway like an aircraft.

In addition, compared to helicopters, it is relatively less noisy, and since it is powered by electricity, it has the advantage of significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

President Akasaka says that this flying car will be effective in the mountainous areas of Hokkaido and the remote islands of Kyushu and Okinawa.

Akasaka: "When you go to rural areas, there are many places that are subject to travel restrictions, such as mountainous areas that are difficult to reach by land, remote islands, or having to take a detour, but flying cars are a new technology that enables vertical takeoff and landing without the need for a runway. If you make good use of its lightness, you can move freely even in areas where transportation is restricted. If restrictions on travel in rural areas are removed, the possibilities for tourism and business will expand."

In the future, flying cars will become a means of transportation that complements aircraft.

We believe that it will be used not only for tourism and business, but also for emergency use in the event of a disaster and as an alternative to doctor helicopters.

Akasaka: "Flying cars are not the technology of the future, the vehicles of the future. We want to commercialize it as soon as possible after the Expo."

President Akasaka said. We intend to respond with a sense of urgency toward the commercialization of flying cars.

However, how do we permeate the world with vehicles that are really unfamiliar?

The most important thing is to fully demonstrate safety to society.

Akasaka: "The most important thing is how to be accepted by society, and the biggest element is to properly prove safety. We have a lot of safety know-how that we have built up over a long period of time, so I would like to emphasize at this Expo that we will inject it into flying cars as much as possible so that people will recognize us as safe vehicles."

Urgent Issue: Sense of Crisis for "Decarbonization"

While demonstrating enthusiasm for new businesses, the industry as a whole is under pressure to take urgent action on decarbonization initiatives.

Unlike automobiles, aircraft are difficult to electrify or convert to hydrogen fuel.

As various industries work to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, SAF, a next-generation fuel made from plants and waste oil, is indispensable for the aviation industry to achieve its goals.

Regulations on SAF have been strengthened in a way that Europe and other countries are ahead of the curve.

Many countries are moving toward numerical targets to make a certain percentage of fuel SAF, and competition for it is intensifying worldwide.

For this reason, the company intends to focus on domestic production efforts to ensure a stable supply of SAF.

Akasaka: "I want to create a domestic SAF supply chain by all means. Japan, if there are airports that can and cannot load SAF in the future, airports that cannot carry SAF will not only not be able to fly their own planes, but overseas planes will not fly and will be avoided. There is a sense of crisis that not being able to install SAF at airports in Japan will be a very fatal story. Japan is an aviation powerhouse, so it is very important for us to produce products properly."

For the island nation Japan, airplanes are an inseparable infrastructure.

On the other hand, people's lives and work styles have changed since the Corona disaster, and their transportation needs have changed significantly.

While opening up new demand, we will also tackle issues such as decarbonization in the aviation industry.

How will the company overcome this situation and lead the industry? I would like to continue to pay attention to it.

Miyoshi, Reporter of the Ministry of Economic AffairsJoined the Nagoya Bureau
in 2017 to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure,
Transport and Tourism of the Ministry of Economic Affairs