Fukushima Prefecture sets sights on flying cars to boost recovery and local industry

[Translated by the Japan Times]The Fukushima Prefectural Government is leading a collaborative effort involving companies from different industries and a robotics testing field to invent a flying car. In early August, the research center at the test field began accepting applications for four additional companies. The prefecture is focusing on efforts to attract companies to the site, which remains the only facility in the country where development and testing can all be done at the same site. The prefecture hopes to create synergies among various businesses and local parts suppliers and eventually build one of the country’s largest industrial centers in Fukushima. Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori introduced the concept in Tokyo during a conference on flying car development organized by the industry ministry on Aug. 2. The central government is in the process of putting together a plan to build a working flying car by 2023. The market for such vehicles will rapidly expand in the near future, according to Tokyo-based Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting Co. By 2030, the Japanese market is expected to surpass ¥650 billion, while the world market could exceed ¥9 trillion. A variety of companies from a wide swath of industry would be needed to procure materials for fuselages and wings, as well as to develop the systems related to automated flying and collision avoidance that would be necessary to build a working model. The prefecture sees it as a growing market with strong potential and is working to gather companies interested in collaboration. In Japan, mostly venture companies are involved in the research and development of flying cars. The prefecture, along with the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework Promotion Organization, the designated administrator of the Fukushima robotics test field, are publicizing the facility through company visits and exhibitions. Participation from local businesses will be a primary concern as the prefecture looks to establish a new market. Thus, the prefecture has dispatched staff to the facility to help promote business deals. Test flights can be conducted freely at a special facility in the robotics test field, but flying outside is heavily regulated by the aviation law. The prefecture plans to ask the central government to amend the law in order to create a better environment for research and development. In an effort to support robotics research and the recovery of the region struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, as well as the resulting nuclear disaster, the industry ministry is supporting the prefectural government’s efforts. Tasuku Nakai, the president of Tetra Aviation, a Tokyo-based research company that was accepted onto Fukushima Prefecture’s research team during the first round of applications, is optimistic that the prefecture will attract companies. “The market will expand as more companies enter it, and flying cars will become more and more exciting,” he said. Leading up to the Fukushima governor’s announcement in August, Fukushima and Mie prefectures made an agreement to work together to invent a flying car. “I hope this partnership will help move the concept forward,” said Uchibori during a ceremony on Aug. 2. “The two prefectures will work together to build the future,” said Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki. In Mie, where small islands are scattered off the coast, flying cars are seen as potentially useful means of transportation for both logistics and tourism. After successful test flights at the test field, demonstrations are expected to be held in Mie.