How to fly a private airplane in Japan
If you are flying into Japan, please read the reports of HJ Schwerhoff and R. Meutsch (sorry, in German only). Domestically, once you have managed to somehow to get an airplane, or join a friend for a flight in Japan, you will find that actually it is very easy to fly in this country. You need to have a Japanese Pilot’s License to fly as PIC and additionally a Japanese Radio Operator License to fly alone. The general aviation traffic is generally light, however there is a significant amount of helicopter traffic over the large metropolitan areas like Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka. The country is beautiful, with the mountains and the ocean very close by wherever you go. The large cities are spectacular from the air, especially so at night.
Flight plans are mandatory for all flights of more than five miles away
from the departure airport or in case you intend to land at a different
airfield (even if it is as close as Ryugasaki and Ohtone, just two miles).
You file with the Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) office in charge of the
region you are in. Anybody in the airport office will be glad to help.
On a number of airports (those having official CAB designators), you also
can file in person while getting an update on the weather. Somewhat similar
to the Flight Service Stations in the US. There is no need to open the
flight plan after departure, all plans are "considered to have departed",
but recently JCAB appreciates if you open the flight plan on the “XY Information”
e.g. “Tokyo Information”. The form for a flighplan is pretty self-explanatory
and follows the ICAO standard format – different from the US. Be very careful
about the duration of flight you indicate, however. Different than in other
countries, the Japanese CAB will immediately after your ETA has passed
and they did not hear from you initiate a search. First by calling the
airport of intended arrival, but if you are not there (yet), a full-blown
SAR is getting under way quickly. Thus, if in doubt, plan a few minutes
more in order to avoid unnecessary irritation or inform “ XY Information”
about your delay. Also never change your destination without prior change
of your flight plan via your radio.
Advisories is a wonderful service in busy airspace
(such as around Tokyo Haneda or Narita), and highly recommended. Works
identical to VFR Flight Following in the US. The only difference is, you are
talking to a special controller, not the one who also handles the IFR traffic.
They are both sitting next to each other and are looking at the same screen,
but as VFR traffic you will get your individual controller on the ground. All
controllers are speaking very good English and communication is easy and
friendly. Excellent attitude towards general aviation.
No surprises here. Works same as Class D airspace in the US. If you have a control tower, you need their consent to fly into their airspace. Call approx. five to six miles out. If you want to land, you need to be cleared, same for taxi, take-off etc.. There is Class B airspace which is called “Positive Control Zone”, often difficult to recognize on the map (red intermitted line), definitely you want to make sure to be cleared through that airspace, before you enter it.
This is different from what you may know. Virtually all fields have a so called "Flight Service" or “Radio" stations. You call a few miles out to get the local weather information, and they will also tell you which runway is in use. Different from the US, however, this is much more than a casual "advisory" from a Unicom operator which you may or may not follow. Clear advice here: Follow what you have been told as if it were a towered field. Some "Flight Service" stations (notably Oshima, south of Tokyo, with lots of traffic on weekends) will even tell you to "hold at present position" when the operator thinks that more than three airplanes is too much in the pattern or "report on a left downwind" when things look fine for you to get closer. Whereas these are uncontrolled fields (and you won't be "cleared" for anything) follow the advice, these folks know what they are doing.
Lingua Franca is English, and you will understand most of what's being said on the frequency. Be prepared, however, for some Japanese communication as well. Japanese pilots have a choice to talk either Japanese or English, and the controller or flight service operator will (usually) respond in the language spoken at.
So, you want to fly in Japan? Go for it!
For many of our international friends, this statement may sound surprising. But Japan is not as General Aviation unfriendly as it sometimes appears abroad. With a little planning ahead even if you are a short term visitor or some more effort in case you are a foreign resident of Japan the skies of Japan are accessible to you.
For short term visitors
In case you are a pilot visiting Japan and are here only for a couple of days, you are most likely interested to know how to arrange a short hop around the pattern or what to do in order to get a sightseeing trip in the sky of Tokyo or Osaka.
Unfortunately, due to Japanese air traffic
regulation, there is no possibility to acquire a short-term permit based on
your pilot license. Hence, a solo flight is out of reach in Japan.
As a foreigner to get into the air in Japan these days, is quite a challenge.
The best way to get close to airplanes is definitely to make friends with
other pilots, so please take your time and visit smaller airfields e.g.
around Tokyo, or Yao in Osaka. Another possibility is to fly with a commercial
operator, however strictly legally speaking, they are not allowed anymore
to let you take the control’s if you do not have a JCAB license.
Airfields are some distance afar from the city centers, so please bring sufficient time for commuting back and forth as well as for the actual flying. From Tokyo, you should calculate to spend the better part of a day with such excursion. Language might become a problem, so if at all possible, bring along an interpreter or a friend/colleague who speaks Japanese.
Some popular destinations from one of the
airfields around Tokyo are:
a. A sightseeing tour over the city of Tokyo and to Yokohama. Almost as impressive as a tour over New York or San Francisco.
A tour to see Mount Fuji and
the famous Five Lakes around Japan's sacred mountain.
c. A flight to Oshima Island, off Izu Peninsular, located in Tokyo Bay
Chofu Airport, in the southwestern corner of Tokyo is reasonably accessible
from downtown and is a good staging point for scenic flights. Honda Airport
at Okegawa in Saitama Prefecture to the northeast of Tokyo is farther away
from the City Center and offers similar possibilities for local flights.
Ruygasaki is a small uncontrolled field right under the northern approach
into Narita airport. Some members of AOPAJ have their personal airplane
Foreign Residents of Japan
Be forewarned: The process of having your license validated in order to get you to fly solo legally in this country is complex and requires time and patience. Also, some knowledge of the Japanese language is essential in order to pass the test for the required Radio Operator's License (there is a, but presently costly exception see below). However, with perseverance, one will succeed and finally be able to take to the skies for the best and most individual view of Mount Fuji you ever had...
To Fly solo and be PIC you need the
following documents in order to fly legally and/or to rent airplanes in Japan:
a. A Pilot License, issued by the Minister of Transport
b. A Medical Certificate, issued
by an appropriately authorized Japanese medical practitioner
c. A Radio Operator's License
Validation of foreign licenses
In order to get a Japanese Pilot License
based on your foreign ticket you would need:
a. You’re original Pilot Certificate
b. Logbook and a copy of all pages
c. Copy of your passport and Foreign Residents Registration Certificate, Application for Validation (available from the Ministry of Transport), A recent passport picture in the prescribed size
Filling in the application is complex, as "total hours" and
similar items of flight experience are defined differently in Japan as, e.g.,
in the United States and need to be recalculated based on the entries in your logbook?
Have a Japanese friend, best with knowledge about aviation, assist you in this
The aviation authorities will need approx. two month to process your application. Please be prepared for additional questions and requests for further information. In case your Japanese is not fluent, assign somebody speaking the language as point of first contact. The staff at the aviation authorities is not necessarily fluent in English, but they will need to receive complete and accurate answers to their requests.
Regardless of the level of your certificate and your ratings you will receive a Private Pilot Certificate. For Commercial or ATP Certificates and Instrument Ratings you would have to go the "official" way of obtaining those through the respective tests from the authorities. The civil aviation authorities will not issue those licenses simply based on you holding corresponding ratings elsewhere.
From summer of 2000, JCAB require all applicants to pass a Japanese aviation law exam to acquire a Japanese license by transfer. The exam is in English. There are AOPA-J members who have gone through process who can assist you. Join AOPA-J!
You will need a Medical Certificate issued by a designated medical practitioner. In the table below are listed a number of doctors who are eligible and also speak English. If you can obtain a Medical Certificate in your home country you should have no difficulties to obtain this document in Japan
Name Location Telephone
M.D. Haneda Airport 03-5757-1122
Mikio Takeuchi M.D. Sapporo, Hokkaido 011-694-5555
All medical practitioners listed above are pilots and/or members of AOPA Japan.
Also, there are a number of medical practitioners in Japan which are
authorized to issue Medical Certificates under FAA rules. Dr. Kikuchi, FAA AME,
above, is one of them.
Radio Operator's License
Legally, you cannot operate as single Pilot in Command in Japan without this document, which you will have to obtain by successfully passing a written and an oral test. Such test is required also in case you come from a country where you already had to take a test and are in possession of a radio license. Essentially, there are two ways to take a test:
In case you have some command of the Japanese language, in particular
"kanji" characters, you should consider joining a Preparatory Session
(koshukai) arranged by the "Association for Radio Communication (Denki Tsushin Shin
Kyokai)", which is entitled by the Ministry for Telecommunication to
administer the respective tests. Such Preparatory Session is held several times
per year and takes three days including the test itself. This session results
in you obtaining the certificate "Koku Tokushu Musengishi", which in
turn authorizes you to operate the radios of Japanese registered airplane. As a
matter of course, you also may attempt to master the test directly at the
Association without a specific Preparatory Session, although the subjects of
the test are not without substance (Radio Communication Law, Technical Aspects
as well as Western Alphabet) and attendance (so far) virtually guarantees
success. The Preparatory Session is not inexpensive, but the Association is
very helpful and will go for great lengths to assist foreigners in particular.
Should you not be able to speak and read Japanese, or in case your goal
is to fly commercially in Japan, you may try to join a prep session to obtain
the radio operator license required for commercial pilots. The upside with this
method is that the ground school classes as well as the tests are administered
in English language. This is the way all professional pilots working for a
Japanese airline take to get their certification. The downside is that the
subjects are highly complex and require in-depth study and familiarization with
all technical aspects of radio communication, radar and radio navigation. The
prep session alone usually lasts for one full week with daily classes, followed
by the test on the final day. The prep courses are held in irregular intervals
at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Unfortunately, recently it has been almost
impossible to attend these classes without having an association with an
airline. Alternatively, if several foreign applicants can be gathered, one
might be able to arrange private lessons with the “Denki Tsushin Shin Kyokai”.
AOPA Japan has contacts to training institutions preparing the future
pilot to take both exams mentioned here. Should you be interested to learn
more, please do contact us.
Similar to continental Europe or America's northwest or northeast, weather is a big factor in Japan. Most good VFR days are found during the winter months, between October and March. Summer gets hot and humid, and from middle of June to late July, we have to cope with the rainy season.
Please do not consider this to be a legal document, or absolutely complete and applicable to all situations. If you are indeed interested to proceed for yourself in the near future, contact AOPA-J. We almost always have foreign resident pilot members.
(Thanks for the original info and text by
Mr. Fanselow, who flew his Mooney M-10 Cadet in Japan. Info on this page has
been modified by the previous curator, Kaz Shimada and the current
administrator Peter Steeger (Petair).