Japan came out of the Second World War a shattered and humbled nation. It is a testament to the country that they were able to field an effective and efficient civil airliner as early as the 1960s given that the Allied occupation of the country didn't end until 1952. The Japan of the 1950s was a far cry from the high-tech manufacturing powerhouse of the 1980s, but some dreamt of a day when the Japanese aviation industry could regain its former status.
Even so the resulting aircraft was competent and broadly on schedule when it flew for the first time in August 1962. It was not groundbreaking in anyway, and shared a general plan and Rolls Royce Dart engines with the competing Avro 748, but it worked. Mistakes were made and gradually this slowed down the movement into full production. For example omitting in foreign sales contracts to mention anything about the propellers because the contract that had been copied was for 727s with jet engines.
Then again the programme adopted early on American Civil Air Regulations and FAA review, which no doubt assisted it in the international market. Gradually some international orders came in, 4 to Phillipine Airlines for example, though in this case the aircraft were included in war reparations.
The USA was an irresistible target for sales but also an unlikely one. US airlines rarely looked outside of the US for aircraft unless they had no other option, and the political ramifications of buying foreign had scuppered several deals. Nevertheless despite the aircraft design's age the NAMC YS-11 broke into the US market.
The first success was a 1966 lease agreement with Hawaiian Airlines for them to take 3 aircraft. The agreement had a let to buy clause, but in the end this was not actioned. The three aircraft were returned after nearly two years of operations in October 1968. Nonetheless this was not due to any failings with the aircraft and more to do with Hawaiian's pending delivery of new DC-9-32s. The big breakthrough of course was the April 1967 deal with Piedmont Airlines. We'll discuss this further in the next blog entry.
In the end Piedmont remained the largest export customer and 75 YS-11s were sold abroad to 19 customers in 15 countries. Bearing in mind the obstacles overcome, competition and size of the relative market in the 60s this was a decent return for a fledgling aircraft and manufacturer. Unfortunately it was not a financially successful one. To achieve these sales pricing and payment terms had to undercut rivals. NAMCO itself guaranteed manufacturers a profit to build the aircraft and assumed all risk and debt. This along with a tendency to run the programme like a military one did not introduce an environment of cost efficiency.
The programme ended in 1971 when the dollar's fixed exchange rate to the Yen was ended by Nixon. It had been a financal failure, which was hardly unexpected, but had provided a wealth of experience to Japanese industry and produced a worthwhile aircraft. Of the 182 built 112 were still in service in 1994 and a handful survived into 2011. NAMCO continued on until 1982, by which time its losses were more than 4 times its capitalisation (at over $36 million). Even though NAMCO was disbanded the Japanese aviation industry has seen a massive increase in its market share, mainly as a components manufacturer, and a lot of this must surely go down to the YS-11 project. The aircraft was a technical triumph but a managerial and financial failure.
1995. Mercado, S. The YS-11 Project and Japan's Aerospace Potential. Japan olicy Research Institute
1996. Samuels, R. Rich Nation, Strong Army": National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan. Cornell University Press
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: