General Aviation Market Intelligence

Market Spotlight: Japan

Market Spotlight: Japan

This article is extracted from the most recent edition of Asian Sky Quarterly.
To read the full article, please download our Quarterly Report.

Japan’s unique geography consists of over 14,000 islands, the sixth longest coastline in the world and rugged, mountainous terrain. The country is also located in an area prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Much of its population of over 123 million is concentrated in large, densely populated urban areas. Road access to remote areas is somewhat limited, and gridlocked traffic in cities is an everyday occurrence.

Because of the above reasons, helicopters are indispensable tools in Japan, especially in emergency services and rescue roles. The country has the third largest civil turbine helicopter fleet in the Asia-Pacific region behind Australia and mainland China, but helicopter operations in Japan are somewhat different compared to the rest of Asia-Pacific.

There were 673 civilian turbine helicopters in service in Japan at the end of Q2 2023, with the fleet size remaining fairly consistent over the past 10 or so years. The lack of notable fleet growth can be explained because a large proportion of the fleet is deployed in rescue or medical and law enforcement roles, and that these are normally replaced on a one-for-one basis as ageing helicopters reach the end of their useful life.

Among the OEMs, Airbus Helicopters had the largest fleet share with 350 units, or 52% of the fleet. This included the fleet of 65 locally manufactured Kawasaki BK117s, which are part of the EC145/H145 family. Leonardo and Bell each had around a 20% share, while Sikorsky, Robinson and MD Helicopters took the minor shares. The fleet also included a handful of specialist helicopters from Kaman and Kamov operating in the country, although these were mainly used in heavy lifting roles.

Fleet distribution by size category has traditionally been somewhat different compared to other mature markets. The nature of helicopter operations in Japan means that twin-engine helicopters are preferred in most missions, such as emergency medical services (EMS), rescue and law enforcement. Twin-engine helicopters offer higher performance, more payload and increased redundancy for missions which often involve longer distances and flights over densely populated areas. At the end of Q2 2023, twin-engine helicopters accounted for some 73% of the turbine fleet in Japan.

The fleet of super medium and heavy helicopters in Japan remained small and occupied just 5% of the total share, with most helicopters in this size category being deployed in either firefighting or search & rescue roles. The lack of offshore oil and gas operations in and around Japan is also a contributing factor.

The single-engine Airbus AS350/H125 family was the most popular among Japanese operators, with a fleet of 85 in service, followed by the twin-engine EC135/H135 and EC145/H145/BK117 families with 83 and 68, respectively. The BK117 series is manufactured locally in Japan. Leonardo’s AW139 was the most popular medium twin helicopter operating in Japan.

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