Jan. 6, 2013

International operators who haven’t been to Tokyo, Japan lately may be surprised to learn that officials in the Japanese capital are making progress in easing access for business aviation into the city’s airports.

“You had problems getting both arrival slots and parking spaces,” recalled business aviation pilot Mark Swedenborg. “If you were traveling to Tokyo, you could only get into Narita, and that’s more than an hour away from town by taxi. There were only five parking slots for general aviation on the whole field, and you had to reserve them in advance.”

The amount of paperwork required was exhausting, he said, noting that it had to be completed at least 45 days in advance. Then there were the fees: $10,000 to $15,000 in handling costs for each operation.

“Now they’re more open for business,” Swedenborg said. Haneda Airport, which is much closer to downtown Tokyo, accepts general aviation flights. Slot times and parking spaces at both Haneda and Narita are much more easily obtained, and the paperwork is not as intimidating as it once was, he noted.

FAR Part 135 operators have also seen a major change in the Tokyo area, according to Phil Linebaugh, chief operating officer at International Trip Planning Services, LLC, based in Houston, TX. “Now there’s not as much paperwork and not as much lead time required,” he said.

Linebaugh and Swedenborg said the changing climate for business aircraft operators across Asia is one reason for the change in attitudes among Japanese government officials and handlers.

That said, the two agree that one key sticking point remains: “anytime people in our business talk about Japan, they talk about the cost,” Linebaugh said, pointing out that the cost of operating in Japan remains among the highest in the world Linebaugh said he believes the Japanese will soon realize they can win much more general aviation business by competing on cost and will lower fees accordingly.