Business Aviation Market Intelligence

Sapporo Opens Long Awaited FBO

Sapporo Opens Long Awaited FBO

Sapporo is a city of contrasts. Nestled in the north of Japan on second biggest island, it is known in spring for its beautiful cherry blossoms that can rival the Sakura Season displays in Tokyo, and in winter for being an icy wonderland, which culminates with its own snow festival.

Visitors flock to the city during the winter from Japan and the rest of Asia. For some it will be their first glimpse of snow, but for others it is an annual ritual as they look to hone their skiing or snowboarding skills. During this winter season, which normally lasts between early December and the end of March, the number of visitors to the city swell so much that airline schedules almost double. But it is not just commercial aircraft that use the airport, a decent number of private jets do as well.

Without proper facilities, visiting aircraft would have to park on the end of the international terminal and, if the arrivals came from outside of Japan, the passengers would then need to go into the terminal itself to be processed through the normal immigration channels in the airport.

Not exactly the most premium of solutions, especially as those private jets arriving are normally large, long range jets, the passengers of which no doubt staying at the more upmarket hotels and resorts around the city and its surroundings.

But in December 2023 the airport got what it desperately needed; its own FBO. Nestled towards the end of the international terminal, the FBO was built from the ground up in seven months to not only create a feeling of calm and space, but also to have a logical flow for passengers passing through the facility. The facility does house Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) facilities, although the staff that perform these functions are shared with the neighbouring international terminal and come across to the FBO as and when they are needed. The FBO also features a pilot’s lounge and dedicated lounge spaces for passengers.

Although an opening ceremony for the FBO was held on December 9th, the new facility was officially opened a day earlier on December 8th, when an Airbus ACJ arrived from Clark in the Philippines.

Overall, the airport says that the FBO is in response to an increase in the number of business aircraft visiting the airport, which regularly tops 400 movements per year. This, the Hokkaido Airport Authority’s Managing Executive Officer Takayuki Yamamoto adds, is largely seasonal, with many of the movements taking place during the winter months, during which time the Hokkaido region is known for snow.

The opening of the FBO is the culmination of four years of hard work by the Hokkaido Airport Authority, during which time it not only tendered for the management of the FBO but also made visits to various FBOs around the world. Hokkaido Airport Authority itself was only set up four years ago, however opening an FBO at Sapporo was always in its plans, with Yamamoto stating that the Japanese government provided subsidies, and that plans had to be put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Japanese government does provide some subsidies for creating this type of facility to encourage more international passengers to visit Japan. So, we decided to make use of those subsidies” says Yamamoto.

Before COVID-19 we had around 400 business aviation flights, but at that time arriving passengers had to queue in the international terminal with other passengers.”

Early on during the FBO design process the airport put out a tender for the management of the FBO. Although several companies

submitted proposals, it would be Universal Aviation, a company that the airport already knew very well, that eventually won.

 “Their reputation is very good. Before the opening of the FBO it was Universal that was supporting the business aircraft that visited Sapporo,” says Yamamoto.

Although the FBO is officially open from 08:00 to 20:00, with prior agreement visiting aircraft can be accommodated at any time. “This airport is open 24/7, so if we have advance notice, we can arrange for CIQ facilities to be open at any time, including the nighttime,” says Universal Aviation’s Hiroshi Higashiyama. “But that only applies to flights ending in Sapporo, currently tech stops are not allowed outside of the FBO hours. Only those aircraft that have business in Hokkaido will be accepted between 22:00 and 07:00 the next day.”

“Of course, a diversion will be accepted at any time,” adds Higashiyama. “We would not turn them away.”

Part of the reason behind not accepting tech stops at night is that the airport is shared with the Japan Air Self Defence Force, which has its own facilities along one side of the airport. Although it does have its own runway, which during the day is often used by fighter jets, transports and special missions’ aircraft, Air Traffic Control (ATC) is shared with the commercial side of the airport.