Business Aviation Market Intelligence

MRO Japan Expands Into Corporate Aviation

MRO Japan Expands Into Corporate Aviation

Japan has built one of the most impressive domestic airline networks in the world. Stretching 1,700 miles from Painushima Ishigaki Airport in the south, right the way up to Wakkanai Airport in the north, Japanese airlines regularly ply routes between futuristic megacities and beautifully peaceful islands.

It is also a relatively unique Market. Unlike in the US or Europe where you’ll see single aisle and commuter aircraft flying domestic services, Japan utilises many widebody aircraft on domestic routes. That’s not to say that smaller aircraft don’t fly these routes, they do, but you’re just as likely to see a domestic flight operated by an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 777 as you are an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.

With so many aircraft flying to outposts far away from the main Tokyo and Osaka bases, there was a clearly defined need for maintenance facilities at some of the destinations that the airlines regularly fly into. This was especially true for some of the domestic trunk routes, which are regularly served from various different parts of the country.

So, in 2015, a new MRO company was formed with the aim of providing MRO services in one of Japan’s busiest airports outside of Osaka or Tokyo. Two years prior to that, the Okinawa Prefecture, an island south of the mainland that’s closer to Taiwan than it is to Japan, had set up a tender procedure for companies to potentially set up an MRO facility at Naha Airport. Japan’s biggest commercial operator, All Nippon Airways (ANA), made a bid to run the facilities, and was subsequently named as the winner.

The new company, MRO Japan, would be owned 45% by ANA, with 25% owned by Japanese aircraft interiors expert JAMCO, 20% owned by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and the remaining smaller percentages held by Japanese banks and the Okinawa Promotion and Development Finance Corporation.

The company initially began operations at Itami Airport in Osaka, and quickly grew to having 180 employees. But in 2019 a second round of funding was completed that would see a number of manufacturing and associated companies making investments into MRO Japan, and soon after, the company completed relocated its business and all of its staff to Naha Airport on Okinawa Island.

Since then, the company has been in growth mode, and today includes 433 employees, of which 90% are from Okinawa itself.

The company has traditionally focussed on maintenance services to the aircraft types most prevalent to Japan, ranging from Dash-8 Turboprops, right the way up to the Boeing 747-8, which it recently received approvals for Its team of engineers can perform maintenance up to C Checks, and can also perform structural repairs, engine changes as well as various other major maintenance procedures.

The company’s facilities at Naha Airport were completed in November 2018 and are amongst the largest in Japan and were built with the future in mind. The hangar buildings, which can double as aircraft parking bays during adverse weather conditions such as typhoons, can hold a Boeing 747-8 as well as several smaller aircraft at the same time.

The hangar complex also includes a paint bay. The company became well known in both Japan and Taiwan when it painted several special Pokémon schemes on ANA and China Airlines aircraft.

Looking to the future, MRO Japan wants to expand its lease return side of the business, as well as its work on corporate aircraft, saying that it is expecting to be busy in the future due to new aircraft deliveries and existing leased aircraft leaving Japan.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for maintenance remained steady due to the need for refurbishment of cargo planes and preservation maintenance.”

Says Takashi Takahashi, President, MRO Japan. “In the future, aviation demand will grow, as in addition to the maintenance of existing aircraft due to the recovery, demand is expected to increase further due to the active introduction of new aircraft in Asia and the maintenance of lease returns.”

Taking its first tentative steps into the corporate aviation world, the company recently completed its first check on a Philippines-based Airbus ACJ318, during which time the aircraft’s engines, landing gear and other systems were inspected. Registered in Europe, MRO Japan first had to seek out European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approvals before it could do the work. The approvals were received mid-way through 2023, following what the company says was many months of hard work.

But it’s an area that the company wants to expand further into, with noting that there is a sizable number of corporate airliners both based, and operating to, the Asia-Pacific region.

The corporate airliner market is the perfect market for MRO Japan to take its first tentative steps into corporate aviation, as the company already holds approvals to work on the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families that the majority of corporate airliners are based on. The EASA approvals are already in place, and the company is looking into obtaining approvals from other regulatory authorities to allow them to work on overseas registered aircraft.

Overall, MRO Japan’s expansion into lease returns and corporate aviation fits perfectly into Okinawa’s plan to form an aviation cluster in and around Naha Airport. Although the plan for the cluster was originally drawn up in 2018, in October 2023 a Cluster Formation Acceleration Council was formed and held its first meeting.

Takahashi says that in 2024 MRO Japan will work towards realizing the action plan that was formulated in 2018, working together with the governor of Okinawa to make recommendations on how the aviation cluster can grow and operate.

“We support the safety of the skies through our MRO business and contribute to the development of the aviation industry as well as local communities.” Says Takahashi. “We aim to become Asia’s leading MRO.”