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Business trends

Japan promotes business jet market ahead of 2020 Olympics

Airlines and trading houses to tap Asian VIPs as government adds airport facilities

Trading house Sojitz plans to expand its fleet of business jets in Japan and elsewhere in Asia, anticipating a rise in the number of well-heeled travelers.

TOKYO -- Public and private efforts are underway in Japan to promote the use of business jets ahead of the Summer Olympics, which Tokyo will host in 2020.

Trading house Sojitz plans to triple the size of its fleet of business jets for charter flights, while the transport ministry will provide subsidies to build facilities to help local airports handle private jets. The moves are aimed at meeting growing demand for VIP business and leisure travel, especially from Asian countries, and are expected to fuel Japan's tourism boom.

Small business jets can carry around 10 passengers and are typically used by corporate executives and others as "flying offices." They are able to reach places that do not have regular commercial airline service and can be ready to fly at a moment's notice.

Japan's market for business jets is tiny compared with that of other large countries. There were just 57 registered business jets in Japan in 2016, compared with 19,153 in the U.S., 243 in India and 157 in China, according to the transport ministry.

Sojitz owns nine of these aircraft and offers a range of services, including sales and maintenance of jets, and a charter flight operation. It plans to expand its fleet in Japan to 15 aircraft, with 15 more in other Asian markets to strengthen its Hong Kong-centered business.

Business jets are rare in Japan, where they are seen as an extravagance. The country's extensive high-speed rail network and other railways, along with Japan's relatively small size, further limits the market.

But as more visitors to Japan arrive from other parts of Asia, the use of business jets is expected to grow. ANA Holdings unit ANA Business Jet recently began a service that offers connections between scheduled ANA international flights and business jet services. It also arranges charter flights.

ANA started business jet services in North America and expanded them to Europe last winter. It is now set to launch services in major U.S., European and Asian locations.

Testing the waters of the leisure travel market, ANA is planning tie-ups with a business jet service in Hawaii.

The growing interest in business jets in Japan owes in part to the success of HondaJet. The aircraft, built by Honda Aircraft, became the top selling jet in its class in 2018 for the second consecutive year. The U.S.-based subsidiary of Japanese automaker Honda Motor delivered 37 aircraft that year. In December, the HondaJet was certified by Japanese authorities to fly in Japan.

Serving as Honda Aircraft's exclusive sales agent in Japan, Marubeni Aerospace has orders for more than 10 planes, and has begun delivering them to customers. Four jets have been registered in Japan.

The number of takeoffs and landings by business jets for international flights at airports in Japan came to 5,719 in 2018, twice as many as a decade earlier, according to the transport ministry, which has eased regulations in hopes of attracting more wealthy travelers from abroad. The introduction of designated runways for business jets at Haneda and Narita airports, which serve Greater Tokyo, has also helped develop the market.

In 2019, the ministry will subsidize the creation of designated runways and setting up additional immigration counters and other facilities for business jet passengers at local airports. Half the cost will be covered by the International Tourist Tax, which was introduced earlier this year.

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