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.

TCA 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.

Controlled Airports
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.

Uncontrolled Airfields
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.

Radio Communication
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.

b.    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 stationed here.

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 process.

    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!

   Medical Certificate
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

    Kikuchi M.D.             Haneda Airport        03-5757-1122 (fax 1123)
    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.

A Disclaimer
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).