French and Japanese Aerospace Industries Collaborate on Supersonic Travel

17 June 2005

Aerospace industry associations from France and Japan have signed an agreement to promote cooperation in research into supersonic travel, with the hope of producing a successor to the Anglo-French Concorde.

The agreement, signed at the Paris Air Show, calls for collaboration between members of France's Aerospace Industries Association (GIFAS) and the Society of Japanese Aerospace Companies (SJAC).

""We would like the industrial groups to bring about supersonic transport by combining Japan's manufacturing technology with France's supersonic technology,"" Shoichi Nakagawa, Japan's minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters at the official unveiling of the project at the Paris Air Show.

GIFAS said that ""both industries have considered there is a lack of mature enough basic supersonic technologies and some technological deadlocks. However, some Japanese and French companies and research centres have a recognised expertise and have shown strong willingness to cooperate for mutual benefit.""

Engineers from both countries will cooperate in workshops in several key areas, including engine noise and fuel efficiency -- the twin problems that destroyed Concorde, the Franco-British plane that was withdrawn in October 2003 after 27 years as a technological marvel but a commercial disaster.

""Three-year research activities are planned for technologies related to composite material structure, reduction of jet-engine noise and other areas which can overcome the difficulties unique to supersonic flight,"" Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI) said in a statement.

""Technology areas that may be envisaged for cooperation or exchange of information include the airframe and engine areas,"" GIFAS added.

According to one report, new engines being developed by a consortium of Japanese companies will enable the aircraft to travel at a speed of Mach 5.5, or 5.5 times the speed of sound. The old Concorde, in comparison, had a maximum speed of Mach 2.

Entities that have expressed interested in cooperation include the European firm EADS and SAFRAN of France, as well as the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Japan Aircraft Development Corporation (JADC), a consortium of firms in commercial aircraft making, and Engineering Research Association for Supersonic Transport Propulsion System (ESPR), GIFAS said.

The ESPR, launched in 1999, is spearheading Japan's efforts to produce a quieter, more efficient and less polluting supersonic engine with the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) one of its prime targets. Supersonic travel has always been a keen area of interest among aviation engineers, but its commercial feasibility has risen and fallen in line with the fluctuating cost of jet fuel.

France and Britain launched the Concorde project in the early 1960s at a time when oil prices were very low and the potential market for the plane was counted in the hundreds. By the time the plane made its first commercial flight, in 1976, that market had shrivelled in response to the first oil shock, in 1973.

In the end, just 20 Concordes were made, and the long-haul market was dominated by the sub-sonic Boeing 747, easier to maintain and able to carry twice as many passengers over a longer range and at a lower cost per kilometre (mile) travelled.

Officials were unable to say how long it might be before the first prototype is launched.

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