SNA Travel (Tokyo) — Representatives of Japan’s tourism industry are stepping up pressure on the Kishida administration to accelerate the country’s reopening to foreign visitors.
“We believe the weaker yen will help the tourism industry, and we see this as a business tailwind. This should be a great opportunity for the government to bring tourists back to Japan,” Japan Association of Travel Agents Chairman Hiroyuki Takahashi said this week.
Other organizations lobbying the government for opening the borders include the Japan Hotel Association, as well as major airlines and railway companies.
A formal request from these business groups was submitted to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, specifically asking that the daily cap on entrants to Japan be abolished.
At present, the Kishida government has decided to raise the entry cap from 10,000 to 20,000 people per day beginning in June, but it still intends to maintain the controls.
Other nations in the Asia-Pacific, including those that had imposed strict national isolation policies in 2020 and 2021, have been announcing drastic relaxations or the abolishment of such policies one after another, making Japan increasingly an outlier.
Tourist industry-affiliated lawmakers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are also applying pressure. One such parliamentary group issued a resolution observing, “If Japan is the only nation which continues to take strict measures, then we may be left behind from the rest of the world.”
The lawmakers want the daily cap on visitors lifted, as well as simplified Covid testing and quarantine procedures.
As for the general public, the latest poll by Japan News Network finds that 48% of Japanese believe that border controls should now be eased, while 38% want the strict entry policies to be maintained.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The rise of the eVTOL industry will require not only a new generation of aircraft, but also a host of peripheral devices and services that are also in development. Here we will broadly survey what we know about efforts to provide such peripherals in Japan, understanding that many more players will likely be entering these fields in future months and years.
As the term “Urban Air Mobility” (UAM) implies, the eVTOL industry is expected to operate largely over cities, suburbs, and other populated areas. After all, with their vertical take off and landing capabilities and relatively limited flying ranges, eVTOLs will be best suited for such environments. Initially, some vertiports could be placed at designated locations within existing airports or at helipads, but the industry will need to quickly develop its own infrastructure in order reach full potential.
Vertiport construction and operation could very well become a crowded sector, since many Japanese firms possess the necessary skill sets to enter this business. Those we currently know about, however, are limited to the following five.
It was announced in February that there would be a vertiport development tie-up between the Japanese firms Kanematsu Corporation and Japan Airlines (JAL) with Brazil-based Eve Air Mobility and UK-based Skyports.
Also unveiled in February was the All Nippon Airways (ANA) partnership with California-based Joby Aviation, which specified in its press release that ground infrastructure would be included within the scope of the agreement.
In March, it became known that Nippon Koei, a construction industry consultant, is looking at the issue of vertiport design and construction, with specific interests in airfield maintenance, airspace control, power supplies, environmental assessment, and security.
DroNext, an Osaka-based drone firm established in 2019, is in the early stages of development of an eVTOL vertiport which it calls DroNext SmartHub, though no specifics have yet been released.
Finally, in the context of making its partnership with SkyDrive last month, it was suggested that Nankai Electric Railway might offer maintenance services to vertiports, though this appears to be a project that is limited in scope.
For eVTOLs to become an effective system for public transportation, the vehicles will need to be recharged quickly once they are on the ground, and another class of companies will be involved in the provision of these services.
However, these firms might overlap with the vertiport companies. For example, the Nippon Koei vertiport initiative clearly involves power supplies as one of its dimensions, and that may be true of some of the others as well.
We have yet to hear of any electric vehicle charging company taking an interest in the Japan eVTOL industry, but it’s probably just a matter of time before one emerges.
Air Traffic Control Systems
As eVTOLs, drone delivery, and related services develop, so too will the skies over populated regions become more crowded with small flying aircraft. Companies are thus working on next-generation air traffic control systems to prevent these many zipping and buzzing machines from crashing into buildings, aerial wires, and each other.
This is an area that is already becoming somewhat crowded, as a number of consortiums would appear to jostling to become the industry standard for Japan.
One company to keep an eye on in this space is Terra Drone. First, in August it formed an alliance with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Mitsui & Co., and Aero Asahi which has already performed demonstration tests of a flight management system. Terra Drone has also recently made an investment in Belgium-based Unifly, a prominent unmanned traffic management system provider, which seems to indicate that it is quite committed to developing this technology.
Another big player is Sumitomo Corporation, which has launched its QX Project with partners OneSky Systems, a Pennsylvania-based firm, and Tohoku University. Texas-based aircraft manufacturer Bell Textron might also be playing a role in this initiative.
FaroStar, a small Tokyo-based company, has been working on an air traffic control technology called Aurora, designed to automatically prevent collisions. It has also been conducting practical tests and demonstrations.
The startup AirMobility has been working with Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Company and Mie Prefecture on its AirNavi navigation system, which includes traffic management functions.
JAL and telecom titan KDDI announced in February that they would be combining their efforts to create a drone traffic management system, which obviously could be extended to an eVTOL system as well.
Washington DC-based ANRA Technologies announced last October that it was entering the Japanese market with its SmartSkies airspace management and drone delivery software platform in partnership with ANA and NEC Corporation.
Finally, the press release on the ANA-Joby partnership stated that development of air traffic management systems is part of their deal, although it is not clear that they intend to develop a system separate from those above.
Closely related to the air traffic control systems are the communications systems that will service eVTOLs. This will certainly include wide use of 5G technologies at a later stage.
One firm to keep an eye on in this context is KDDI SmartDrone, which is already looking to integrate its 4G LTE networks with next generation drones and eVTOL.
NTT Docomo’s Docomo Sky project, currently aiming to offer drone manufacturers a solution that uses LTE communication for long-range drone flights, also seems poised for an expansion into eVTOL applications.
3D Air Maps
The eVTOL and drone delivery era will require complex feats of navigation to accompany air traffic control systems, and some firms will need to create 3D air maps for the urban landscapes.
The main initiative that has come to attention so far in this sphere is that of Kyoto-based startup MetroWeather, which is working to build an urban weather observation infrastructure to be used for the deployment of both commercial drones and eVTOL.
For all the attention being devoted to safety, mishaps are still bound to occur, and there will be a role for insurance companies within the eVTOL industry as well.
It was previously noted the Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Company has been working with AirMobility on its navigation system, and this is clearly in preparation for offering eVTOL insurance at a later stage.
Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Company also has its eyes on the skies, having decided to offer insurance policies for automated drones that fly over urban areas.
Finally, Japan will need private consultants of various kinds to help guide companies through regulatory, cultural, or other obstacles.
Globe+ing is the firm which has most clearly signaled that it wants to occupy this role.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — A groundbreaking ceremony was held yesterday for the Abukuma Wind Power Plant, which will be one of the largest onshore wind farms in Japan when it opens in spring 2025.
The farm is located across four municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture: Tamura city, Okuma town, Namie town, and Katsurao village–areas close to the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant which suffered a triple meltdown in March 2011.
The Abukuma wind farm will consist of 46 General Electric 3.2MW turbines, which have a total height of about 148 meters, at four locations along the boundaries of the municipalities. The farm will thus have a total installed capacity of 147MW, which is equivalent to the power consumption of about 120,000 households.
The developer is Fukushima Reconstruction Wind Power Co., which is backed by nine companies led by Sumitomo Corporation and JR East Energy Development. It was selected as business operator in 2017 by a public offering from the prefectural government.
The power generated by the wind farm will be sold via a transmission line installed by Fukushima Transmission Co.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — As the Sony Group unveiled its financial results for last year, it has become increasing clear that the legendary firm once symbolized by consumer electronics such as radios, televisions, and the Sony Walkman is now much more of a global entertainment company.
Sony’s game segment, which includes products such as the Sony PlayStation console, gaming software, and network services, recorded sales of ¥2.7 trillion (US$21.1 billion) from April 2021 to March 2022 (FY2021). This alone represented about 27.7% of the group’s total revenues.
The PlayStation 5 console, of course, is the central product of this segment, and it has become wildly popular in spite of the fact that its rollout has been badly marred by supply shortages, leaving many fans unable to get hold of it. Nevertheless, Sony sold 11.5 million units in FY2021 and it believes it can sell another 18 million in the current fiscal year.
Sony Pictures Entertainment recorded sales of ¥1.2 trillion (US$9.5 billion) in FY2021, making up about 12.5% of the groups’s total revenues. This figure was driven by the enormous success of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became the No. 6 movie ever at the worldwide box office. Venom: Let There Be Carnage also performed well.
Sony’s music segment contributed sales of ¥1.1 trillion (US$8.6 billion) to the group, or about 11.2% of the total. The leading performer among the global recorded music projects was 30, the fourth studio album by English singer-songwriter Adele, released last November.
The firm’s overall consolidated sales last fiscal year were ¥9.9 trillion (US$76.2 billion), a record high.
Sony has not abandoned electronics, of course, and its cameras and even televisions remain an important part of its overall business. Still, with big moves such as the December 2020 purchase of the Crunchyroll anime business, it appears that most of the group’s energies are now focused on entertainment, and that it sees itself less as the iconic electronics firm it has traditionally been known as.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development, a public-public-private fund also known as JOIN, has made a new investment in the drone industry.
Together with Terra Drone, JOIN is providing €10 million (US$10.6 million) in funding to the Belgium-based company Unifly, a prominent unmanned traffic management (UTM) system provider.
Tatsuhiko Takesada, president & CEO of JOIN, commented, “Through its equity participation in Unifly, JOIN expects to contribute to the realization of safe and secure aircraft, airport and port operations, and enhancement of drone operation management. JOIN aims to support the expansion of the use of drones in a wide range of fields and further build its growth in the drone industry.”
Fellow investor Toru Tokushige, CEO of Terra Drone, added, “Our airspace is going to get more crowded than ever. There’s an urgent need for a global traffic management solution to enable safe and efficient drone and [urban air mobility] operations. Terra Drone aims to be the leading player building the digital infrastructure in the sky together with Unifly.”
JOIN was established in 2014 under the administration of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to help promote Japanese companies’ infrastructure exports. It is about 90% owned by the government.
Unifly was founded in 2015 and has previously won major contracts for its UTM system in Belgium, Canada, and Germany.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Japan has the third-largest installed solar capacity in the world, but it may soon find itself sliding down the ranks for a variety of reasons.
At the end of the last year, Japan’s cumulative solar capacity reached 78.5GW, putting it far behind China but nearly at the same level as the United States.
In the wake of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan put strong emphasis on the expansion of solar, boosting it with very generous feed-in tariffs, and by 2015 there was more than 10GW of new capacity coming online each year.
However, the administration of Shinzo Abe de-emphasized this rapid expansion of solar, reduced the feed-in tariffs, and focused more of its attention on trying to restart nuclear power plants, against public opposition and with only limited success.
Under Abe, the yearly solar installations began to decline to about half of the 2015 peak.
But solar’s challenges have not been limited to the long reign of an administration for which renewable energy development was not a key priority. There are also problems inherent in the technology itself.
As many locals will proudly remark, Japan has four seasons. This presents a serious challenge for the solar power industry because the nation’s electricity grid faces relatively high demand from businesses and households in the summer and winter, but relatively weak demand in the mild spring and autumn seasons.
In the long-run, this problem can be alleviated by the development of battery technologies and other storage systems that can keep the energy available until it is needed by the market.
For now, however, it creates a difficult dilemma for the major Japanese utilities. The electricity grid requires a basic balance between supply and demand, or else the nation faces the possibility of widespread power outages.
One after another, starting with Kyushu Electric Power Company in 2018, the regional utilities have been forced to implement output power controls, temporarily suspending their renewable energy feeds from households and start-ups in the milder seasons.
In consequence, power companies that lean heavily on solar and wind power may find themselves unable to recoup their investments for the periods when their energy is not required, and thus disrupting their business performances and splashing cold water on further renewable energy development.
Nevertheless, the Japanese government began reemphasizing renewable energy development, including solar, under the administration of Yoshihide Suga and into the current administration, as part of an international commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
And so, solar energy growth is expected to continue; estimates suggest that Japan may possess about 150GW of installed solar power capacity by the end of this decade.
Additionally, there is likely to be a brisk expansion of alternative business models employing solar, such as onsite corporate power purchase agreements, in which independent power producers sell energy directly to specific clients.
Nevertheless, with many other nations also strongly interested in solar, and the technology becoming more affordable, Japan is unlikely to keep its No. 3 global ranking for very long, even if the Fukushima disaster helped it get off the starting line quickly in the 2010s.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Car manufacturer Nissan Motor, in partnership with electronics company JVC Kenwood and the Nissan-Sumitomo joint venture 4R Energy, has showcased a prototype portable power supply created from a used battery of a Nissan Leaf Electric Vehicle (EV).
The initiative to recycle EV batteries is part of Nissan’s commitment to the United Nations’ “Race to Zero Campaign,” which Nissan joined in August.
The 4R Energy joint venture was established in 2010 to produce in-vehicle battery systems with the hope of promoting carbon neutrality via EVs. The company has also worked to develop end-of-life solutions for EV batteries, making them an important contributor to its portable power supply project.
The company announced in 2019 that it had obtained third-party certification from leading safety company Underwriter Laboratories to repurpose batteries and to assess second-life applications for them. Aside from being the first organization in the world to receive such certification, 4R Energy previously experimented with powering streetlights with used EV batteries in Namie town, Fukushima Prefecture.
The goal of the collaboration is keep EV batteries from exiting the reduce-reuse-recycle system, with would otherwise leave them uselessly corroding in landfills or contributing to carbon emissions during incineration.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — A year after the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) established its Next Generation Aviation Mobility Planning Office to centrally handle administrative tasks related to next-generation aviation such as drones and eVTOL (flying cars), the first fruits of these efforts are beginning to appear.
The office launched on April 1, 2021, with an inaugural staff of 22 full-time employees.
Its stated goals are to prepare for the start of Level 4 drone flights (beyond visual line of sight in populated areas) later this year, as well as for the launch of the first eVTOL businesses in Japan sometime next year.
This office has been collaborating with other departments, such as the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau’s Aircraft Technology Examination Center, located within Nagoya Airport, which is in charge of the practical testing of next-generation aviation.
On March 25, the Next Generation Aviation Mobility Planning Office published its Test Flight Guidelines for eVTOL.
Manned or unmanned aerial vehicles over 200 grams in weight (over 100 grams from June 20) are subject to the terms of the Civil Aeronautics Act, but an exception is made for indoor flights as well as test flights conducted within spaces which are surrounded by netting, similar to the conditions seen in SkyDrive’s famous manned hover test at the Toyota Test Field in August 2020.
Among the provisions of the Test Flight Guidelines is that a single person needs to be appointed as the overall manager of the test, so the lines of command and responsibility are clear.
The test area should be an open space, with no structures obstructing takeoff, and with reasonable measures taken to prevent third parties from intruding where the aircraft is being tested, such as fences and warning signs.
Special permission from the MLIT is needed to operate in highly populated areas, in emergency airspace, close to airports, at nighttime, and under several other conditions.
Test vehicles which are controlled by remote control need to have various redundancy measures in place to provide back-up options in the case the control link is broken.
In the same way, other provisions of the Test Flight Guidelines appear to be common sense measures to reduce risks of human harm as Japan’s eVTOL industry begins to lift off.
Akihabara News (Japan) — Flea market app Mercari now records over 20 million monthly active users on a sustained basis, a mark which it first cracked last September.
Other divisions of the listed firm which once held the title of Japan’s first unicorn are also hitting their highest-ever user numbers. The mobile payment and credit business Merpay now boasts nearly 13 million users, and even the struggling US branch of Mercari now records monthly active user numbers close to 6 million people.
On the other hand, in its latest financial report, the Japanese firm notes that not everything has been smooth sailing.
While it is still growing, the rate of growth has slowed in terms of the number of listings and frequency of purchases. The company attributes this slowdown in part to the fact that people’s fears of the Covid pandemic have been receding, and so they are becoming more prone to leave their homes and to physically go out shopping.
The company also notes that early 2022 has witnessed an increase in fraudulent usage across the industry.
A major recent initiative has been the Mercari Shops, an e-commerce platform allowing anyone to establish their own online shop using just a smartphone. Any business operator, whether an individual or a corporation, can open Mercari Shops.
Fully launched last October, the company reports that there are already more than 200,000 such shops.
However, despite its record numbers of users, new services, and highest-ever revenues, Mercari also reported that it operated at a financial loss in the July 2021-March 2022 period, recording a net loss attributable to owners of the parent company of ¥7.7 billion (US$60 million) over that nine-month period.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — eVTOL-maker SkyDrive has reported important progress with Japanese regulators on the path toward launching its forthcoming SkyDrive SD-05 two-seater into commercial operations.
Specifically, it has been agreed with the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) to base the “type certification” for the company’s eVTOL on the Airworthiness Inspection Manual Part II.
Effectively, this means that the fundamental rulebook for the government to approve an eVTOL to operate in Japan has now been set.
Airworthiness Inspection Manual Part II defines the necessary capabilities of fixed-wing aircraft that carry up to nineteen passengers and have a takeoff weight of 8,600 kilograms or less. The latest revision of this manual allows flexibility in the shape of the air frame and the aircraft system. It also establishes standards for testing strength, structure, and performance to validate the safety of the aircraft and its components.
SkyDrive Chief Technology Officer Nobuo Kishi stated, “The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau accepted our application for type certification in October 2021. Since then, we have held a series of discussions with the authorities regarding ways to develop and design safe aircraft and the means for testing them. We are very pleased that we have moved a step closer to obtaining a type certificate.”
He added, “We are determined to move ahead with the launch of a flying car business and to ultimately make air mobility a reality for society.”
SkyDrive aims to gain full regulatory approval for its forthcoming two-seater eVTOL by early 2025, before the 2025 World Expo in Osaka.
The company notes that the next step toward regulatory approval is to reach an agreement on the plans for the certification tests, and then later to conduct demonstration flights.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been tapped for collaboration on a demonstration project that aims to produce low-cost green hydrogen from nuclear power.
The project will link the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor in Oarai town, Ibaraki Prefecture, with a nearby, yet-to-be-constructed hydrogen production plant.
Extreme heat obtained from the reactor will be pumped into the new facility to power the creation of hydrogen via the sulfur-iodine cycle, which in turn can be used as a zero carbon fuel for multiple purposes.
The 30MW graphite-moderated gas-cooled research reactor, which came into full operation in 2001, has previously demonstrated stable heat at 950 degrees Celsius.
It resumed operations last July after spending a decade offline, following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
The determination of the specific renovations necessary to connect the hydrogen production plant to the reactor, along with the licensing procedures, equipment modifications, and testing processes, will be conducted in stages.
On February 8, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), began accepting bids for the project, and the MHI-JAEA consortium received the nod.
No timeline for the completion of the project has yet been released.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka has vowed to use a future opportunity to revive his prefecture’s bid to host an Integrated Resort (IR) including a casino at the Marina City location, in spite of the “bitter blow” he received this month when the Wakayama Prefectural Assembly shot down his plan.
“We are not able to proceed with this project,” Nisaka conceded at a press conference this week, “but considering Wakayama’s potential, there is no need to give up on the fundamental idea of hosting an Integrated Resort.”
He added, “The majority of those in the prefectural assembly who voted against it are actually pro-IR. They disagreed with this specific project, but they say there could be another scenario. If we can find a better plan, I’d like to make it happen.”
In a similar manner, Clairvest Neem Ventures also conceded defeat in an open letter to the people of Wakayama published this week, but also indicated that they intended to try again.
“We will continue to explore the possibilities of IR development in Japan,” the letter stated. The company will close its Wakayama office, but keep the Tokyo office open.
Clairvest Neem Ventures went on to try to re-litigate the recently lost battle, claiming that they had been misunderstood.
“We are convinced that the current certainty is 100% for financing the Wakayama IR, but perhaps because of our lack of explanation, we have not been able to obtain understanding of this fact. We feel regret that we have come to this result.”
They argued once again that the commitments which they had secured for the project were fully consistent with the global standard for such matters.
Barring a major revision of national policy, neither Wakayama nor Clairvest will get another shot for about seven years. However, many observers think that the government will indeed revise the national plan in light of the fact that so much has gone wrong in the first round of bidding.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — On April 27, the Hyogo Prefectural Government announced the establishment of the Hyogo Advanced Air Mobility (HAAM) lab, staking their claim to the emerging eVTOL industry.
The initiative is a virtual laboratory that will aim to promote the eVTOL industry, foster social acceptance, support the efforts of student researchers, and to develop human resources necessary for the industry to prosper.
Hyogo Governor Motohiko Saito, who presided over the press event, explained, “I think it is important to take the lead in implementing the flying car society.”
Other partners in the prefecture’s initiative are the diversified trading company Kanematsu Corporation, engineering firm Chuo Fukken Consultants, human resources specialist Pasona Group, and travel company Buzzport.
Specific goals for HAAM include the revitalization of the local economy through the eVTOL industry, the creation of new tourism-related products, and mentoring of the research activities of local high school and university students.
A virtual space will be constructed to facilitate communication between the participants. Also, about ten students will be selected to participate in a special lecture series to introduce them to the latest developments in the eVTOL industry.
Kinuko Yamamoto, vice-president of the Pasona Group, stated, “Distance is a disadvantage for local businesses. But with the arrival of flying cars, it seems to me that this disadvantage can be transformed into profitability. Above all, I look forward to fostering the entrepreneurial spirit of young people.”
The prefectural government first decided that it would create a collaborative eVTOL project last June.
Hyogo Prefecture, whose capital is Kobe city, is located next to Osaka. It plans to participate actively in the 2025 World Expo, at which the Japanese eVTOL industry will attempt to take the global stage.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — JERA has confirmed its intention to make a big move into the solar energy market in Japan, seeking to acquire or develop a total installed capacity of over 1GW by March 2026.
1GW is the approximate energy generation capability of a nuclear reactor.
To help realize its ambition, JERA has finalized a business alliance with renewables engineering firm West Holdings Corporation, including the purchase of about 2.3% of West HoldIngs’ outstanding shares.
Under the agreement, the two companies will develop solar power projects at new sites and at former JERA power plant sites within Japan. With 1GW of capacity, JERA would become of the largest players in Japan’s solar power industry.
JERA’s previous investments in solar power have all been overseas, mainly in India.
JERA was founded in April 2015 as a 50-50 joint venture of Tokyo Electric Power Company and Chubu Electric Power Company, and it is now the largest power generation company in Japan, producing about 30% of the nation’s electricity.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The governments of Osaka and Nagasaki have submitted applications to the central government to have their respective Integrated Resorts (IR), including casinos, licensed for operations under the terms of the 2018 IR Implementation Act.
The results of the licensing bids are expected to be revealed in the latter months of this year.
If both of them are granted licenses, then the ¥438 billion (US$3.4 billion) facility at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Sasebo, Nagasaki, is expected to open first—in autumn 2027. The consortium behind this project is led by Casinos Austria International, a public-sector European firm.
The much larger ¥1.08 trillion (US$8.4 billion) Integrated Resort at Osaka Yumeshima would open about two years later near the end of 2029. This project is led jointly by MGM Resorts International and the Orix Corporation.
The IR Implementation Act allows for a maximum of three licenses to be issued, but in the end only two applicants remain standing in what had once been thought likely to become a highly competitive process.
In this connection, word has finally arrived that both of the mulled IR projects in Aichi Prefecture—the one sponsored by Governor Hideaki Omura for Chubu Centrair International Airport Island in Tokoname city as well as the one mulled by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura for his city—have been abandoned due to the Covid pandemic and insufficient interest from potential operators.
Similarly, Tokyo never made a decision for or against an IR initiative, but clearly has no intention of meeting tomorrow’s application deadline.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — While it is North American and European eVTOLs that receive the lion’s share of attention from the English-language media, the Japanese industry should not be neglecting developments in neighboring China.
Part of the reason for this is that Chinese eVTOL makers are struggling with many of the same challenges, including how to make their vehicles fit for Asian cities where the available spaces are often much narrower. The need for compact designs thus becomes doubly important.
SkyDrive CEO Tomohiro Fukuzawa has explained repeatedly that his firm is aiming to build the world’s smallest eVTOLs for just this reason.
“As our product is very small, it can land on almost any building in the Tokyo area, or gasoline stations or convenience store parking lots,” Fukuzawa told a press conference in Tokyo last September. “Especially in Japan and Asian countries, the SkyDrive type will be more affordable.”
If so, Fukuzawa had better pay attention to the Chinese market, where eVTOL makers seem to have precisely the same idea.
There are a number of Chinese companies jumping into eVTOL development, with EHang being the best known, having listed on New York’s NASDAQ stock exchange, and conducting some test flight tests in Japan itself.
But for the purposes of this article, it is HT Aero, a unit of XPeng Motors, that we will examine more closely.
The main reason for this choice is the striking similarity in form between the SkyDrive SD-03 and the XPeng X1, both of them one-seater eVTOLs.
The SD-03’s world debut came in August 2020 with a manned flight over the Toyota Test Field. The vehicle took off from the concrete surface and glided gently around the facility for about four minutes. Twenty months later, that event remains the only available footage of the vehicle in action.
For its part, the XPeng X1 was first unveiled at the Auto Shanghai trade show in April 2021. It is clearly in the same class as the SD-03, with an almost identical configuration of an open cockpit, eight propellers, and fixed skid type landing gear.
However, in the intervening year, XPeng appears to be developing its eVTOL technology at a quicker pace than SkyDrive. The Chinese firm’s two-seater, the X2, was presented at the Chengdu Auto Show last August, while it seems that SkyDrive does not intend to unveil its SD-05 two-seater until 2024 or early 2025.
Meanwhile, XPeng has been releasing video footage of the X1 flying across the Pearl River and over stunning beach settings, giving the clear impression that their eVTOL technology is already superior to anything that has been developed domestically within Japan.
Of course, the XPeng mother company is no longer a small startup like SkyDrive, but a listed electric vehicle manufacturer that had nearly US$3.3 billion in revenues recorded last year.
XPeng has other advantages as well, such as the much larger domestic market in China and a less safety-obsessed business culture. At present, China seems to possess an unmatched commitment to rapid technological development.
So while Fukuzawa may be correct that there is a big market in Asia for compact multicopter-style eVTOLs, it looks more likely to be Chinese—not Japanese—firms that are poised to capture the largest share.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern devoted part of her visit to Japan to the promotion of geothermal energy ties between her Pacific nation and Japan.
“New Zealand has doubled its geothermal power generation in the past ten years and has complementary capabilities to support geothermal exploration in Japan,” the prime minister said.
As a concrete manifestation of this intent, Ardern attended a launch event for the establishment of a Tokyo office that will serve as a platform for the combined local efforts of New Zealand government-affiliated research institute GNS Science and the North Island-based geothermal innovation company Geo40.
Also at the launch event, GNS Science Chief Executive Ian Simpson stated, “New Zealand shares many similarities to Japan, including a shared vision for zero carbon economies, which is driving strong investment in renewable energy in Japan, including sixty new geothermal power stations planned. More renewable electricity being produced means less fossil fuel consumption, which helps address rising global greenhouse gas emissions.”
He also contended that New Zealand has “expertise that can make Japanese geothermal power stations produce significantly more electricity more efficiently, reduce or eliminate the small amount of emissions from geothermal generation, and extract value out of by-products. Not only does the coalition’s research and expertise provide value for global geothermal customers, it helps ensure energy resilience, affordability, and sustainability.”
The Tokyo office of the GNS Science-Geo40 alliance will most likely focus on making partnership agreements with Japanese firms which are already working within the geothermal industry.
Japan is believed to possess the world’s third-largest geothermal potential, and the government aims to triple the country’s geothermal power output by 2030, making it account for about 1% of Japan’s total energy generation.
Throughout most of the past decade, geothermal’s contribution to Japan’s total energy generation has remained stable at about 0.25%.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — With its location so close to Osaka Yumeshima’s candidate site for a major Integrated Resort (IR), there were always observers who were deeply skeptical about Wakayama’s chances to win one of the three available casino licenses, but a few years ago the project indeed had some momentum.
That prospect, of course, is now in tatters. After losing a vote in committee, the initiative’s fate was sealed by a 18 votes in favor, 22 votes against result in a plenary session of the Wakayama Prefectural Assembly. It was a sudden and ignominious end, which the project’s greatest cheerleader, Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka, called “a bitter blow.”
Indeed, the assembly vote was not simply a rejection of a casino resort, but a repudiation of the central plank of the governor’s economic development strategy for the prefecture. His inability to carry the assembly was a major personal humiliation, and for that reason it was a surprising outcome.
Arguably the high water mark for Wakayama’s bid came in May 2019 when French actor Jean Reno was brought on a tour of the Marina City site by Groupe Lucien Barrière, which was designing a bid that would feature glamorous European-style casino resort. By that time, many of the other candidate cities had dropped out, and Wakayama’s chances were looking pretty good.
It was a combination of unavoidable circumstances and local policy missteps that led to this month’s debacle.
The Wakayama Prefectural Government cannot be blamed for national casino bribery scandal surrounding Tsukasa Akimoto, former senior vice-minister of the Cabinet Office and other politicians. No one in Wakayama was implicated in the scandal—even if it didn’t further darken Japanese public views of IR development.
Likewise, the global Covid pandemic had a devastating impact on Wakayama’s bid, and much of that blow would be received no matter how the local officials had responded.
But Governor Nisaka and his team did commit some major unforced errors.
A couple of months after Jean Reno’s tour of Marina City, the Macau-based Suncity Group, the biggest player in the morally dubious junket industry, signaled its interest in making a Wakayama bid. It was soon spending significant money wooing the local community with websites, lectures, sponsorship of the local basketball team, and an attractive showroom near Nankai Electric Railway Company’s Wakayama Daigaku-mae Station.
But within the Asian casino industry, Suncity’s suspected links with organized crime and its other dubious associations were well known. Australian regulators had openly condemned the junket operator as a criminal enterprise.
The officials in Wakayama Prefecture could have known—and should have known—that Suncity would not pass muster in probity investigations, and they should have made clear right from the outset that Suncity was absolutely not welcome in Wakayama.
Such a stance would have had the additional benefit of demonstrating that the prefectural government was serious about regulation and the protection of the public interest. Instead, the Nisaka administration just looked money hungry and ready to compromise its morals for the sake of a major foreign investment.
When Suncity was belatedly forced to drop out of the process in May 2021, it was only after the Wakayama selection committee had rated the Suncity bid as the strongest, and the prefecture was preparing to declare the Macau firm as the winner. We don’t know exactly who acted behind the scenes to put the kibosh on that plan, but it was more likely the national government than Nisaka’s administration that finally pulled the plug on Suncity.
Another unforced error involved Wakayama’s response to the global Covid pandemic in early 2020.
The prefectural government failed to reckon with the seriousness of the situation, and it simply barreled ahead with its preexisting timeline.
“So long as the national government doesn’t change its schedule, the only thing to do is to proceed as planned,” the governor declared at a press conference in late April 2020.
At the time he said those words, some of the casino firms that had planned to make bids had its key executives confined to their homes, and business operations were at a near standstill.
Nisaka failed, frankly, to exercise common sense.
It is clear that two candidate firms, Groupe Lucien Barrière of France and Bloomberry Resorts of the Philippines, were swept out of the Wakayama IR race by the Covid pandemic, although that may not have been the direct result of Nisaka’s misstep, but rather from the economic damage they suffered in their core markets.
Nevertheless, the governor would have been better advised to work with other IR candidate cities and lobby the central government to put the national process on hold until the impact of the pandemic could be better assessed, both by the authorities and by the casino firms themselves.
In the event, only the weak Clairvest Group bid remained standing by May 2021. The governor surprised no one by declaring himself satisfied with it.
But even given an additional year of efforts, the Clairvest consortium was unable to put together a credible financial package, and that fact spurred many local Liberal Democratic Party politicians to join the Japan Communist Party and to defy the governor’s wishes, giving up on the IR project.
The national government’s IR regulations pushed regional locations like Wakayama and Nagasaki to propose larger casino resort developments than they are likely to be able to handle. It’s possible that the Wakayama Prefectural Assembly’s decision this month will look quite wise in hindsight, especially if Nagasaki moves forward with own massive IR scheme and it emerges as a debacle in a later and more costly stage of the development process.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — The AirTruck logistics drone was officially unveiled by Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL) last month to become a potential workhorse for Japan’s drone delivery market.
It’s a relatively small drone that can carry a payload of up to five kilograms for about twenty kilometers. It is designed exclusively for conducting “last mile delivery” operations, with special attention being given to ease of use by staff members when loading and unloading.
The drone can be loaded from above, and when it delivers its payload, it lands and then gently leaves the package on the ground as it ascends and flies away.
The AirTruck was co-developed by Aeronext and it utilizes that firm’s 4D Gravity technology in order to enhance its stability and performance.
“It is the best design for logistics,” contends Natsuko Ito, the chief marketing officer of Aeronext.
Aeronext has been using a prototype of the AirTruck since April 2021 while testing and launching its SkyHub delivery service in Kosuge village, Yamanashi Prefecture, as well as in other rural locations around the country. The drone has hundreds of practical tests in the field.
The mass production model of SkyTruck is expected to become available shortly.
Akihabara News (Tokyo) — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has announced the completion of a conceptual study for the design of a tanker ship capable of transporting both ammonia and liquefied carbon dioxide.
The study, conducted by MHI unit Mitsubishi Shipbuilding with support from Mitsui OSK Lines, aims to provide the basis for a new class of sea vessel that has potential to become a mainstay of the carrier market.
This could include missions to transport ammonia in one direction, while returning with liquified carbon dioxide from the other direction, thus enhancing efficiency.
Ammonia has been identified by Japanese government and business leaders as an energy source that could play a major role in the nation’s transition to renewable energy. It is a compound consisting of three parts hydrogen and one part nitrogen, releasing zero carbon emissions when combusted in a thermal power plant.
For its part, liquefied carbon dioxide could play an important role in the carbon capture, utilization, and storage chain. An efficient means to transport it to storage sites and other facilities is thus a pending need.
The latest review by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that technologies such as capture, utilization, and storage are “likely to be necessary” if nations are to meet their carbon reduction commitments.
It is carbon dioxide in its liquified form that would be pumped underground for long-term storage at sites such as depleted oil or gas fields, according to most of these schemes.
MHI estimates that the volume of carbon dioxide reduction due to capture, utilization, and storage will amount to 4.3 to 13 billion tons annually by 2050.
The firm has given no timeline regarding when it plans to actually build such tanker ships.