Flying High: A view from the top

by Shogo Hagiwara

flying-high-tokyoFor an exhilarating, exclusive change of pace and unequaled scenery, fly in style.

If you reckon private jets and helicopters are reserved for A-list Hollywood superstars and chart-topping rock bands, then think again. Tokyo has a plethora of chartered aviation services for regular globetrotting businesspeople, tourists and even residents who simply want to enjoy the best of this great city’s views.

It’s an old cliché, yes, but time is money; so if you are traveling on business, it’s only natural to save as much time as possible getting from A to B.

However, although it has been one of the world’s most important financial hubs for a decade or more, Tokyo has long lagged behind its counterparts in terms of access from a nearby international airport — with Narita International Airport some 60 kilometers from the center of the teeming metropolis. With John F. Kennedy Airport , New York, and Heathrow Airport, London, just a quick and simple trip downtown, Tokyo is a mission to reach — unless you fly, that is.

In January, Mori Building Co., Ltd —which last year unveiled the Shanghai World Financial Center — announced helicopter services to connect Narita airport with Ark Hills in Akasaka, downtown Tokyo, in about 20 minutes. The company, which also owns the exclusive Roppongi Hills sopping, residential and business complex, has started the charter service since April and currently is proceeding with the preparations to start liner service this summer.

Courtesy Mori Building

Courtesy Mori Building

“Ark Hills has the only heliport in Tokyo where commercial helicopters are permitted to land and take off. It also is located in an area where quite a few embassies and international companies are based, so this service will meet the needs of VIPs and company executives who wish to save as much of their travel time as possible,” Keiko Ikki of the Mori PR department said. This is surely good news for travelers, but what Mori plans to deliver is more than just a fast, safe, efficient service — they’ve opted for a luxury chopper called “l’Hélicoptère par Hermès,” a Hermès-branded EC 135 helicopter made by Eurocopter — the world No.1 helicopter manufacturer.

“We opted for this luxury helicopter because our target customers are VIPs and corporate executives and we just wanted to arrange the best possible way to assure passengers of a very pleasant journey,” Ikki said.

No less a celebrity than Tom Cruise was one of Mori’s first helicopter customers when he was in Tokyo on a recent trip to promote his latest movie, Valkyrie.

While Mori’s new service will certainly meet the needs of VIPs and jetsetters alike, what if your travel plans are more complicated? Say you have to travel to several cities in Asia for key business meetings, but cannot find direct or even connecting flights?

This is where Marubeni Aerospace Corp., steps in. A subsidiary of Marubeni Corporation, the company plies its trade with satellite, helicopters and airplanes. The company began aircraft management services for private jet owners around 2002, organizing flight schedules and arranging in-flight catering. But the company realized there was a growing demand for charter jet services.


Courtesy Marubeni Aerospace Corp.

“Back then, there were customers who were interested in flying with a private jet; they often said they would like to own it, but they wouldn’t use it often enough to make economic sense,” Yumiko Manabe of Marubeni Aerospace explained. “Meanwhile, we had gained the know-how of providing aircraft management services for private jet owners, so we thought that if we could combine them we’d be able to tap into that demand.”

Marubeni Aerospace’s standby fleet boasts the Gulfstream V, which is one of the first ultra long-range private jets that can fly between Tokyo and New York City non-stop in just over 12 hours. “Because there are not so many Gulfstream Vs in Asia, we have customers from Hong Kong and Russia. We fly them from there to a destination of their choice. You can travel to almost anywhere you want,” Manabe said.

Similarly, Excel Air Service Inc. operates private and business jet services too. Offering “the ultimate private time in the air,” the company flies you to your destination with flight schedules perfectly arranged to meet your specific requests. If you’re picky about food, then you can also have them pre-order meals from your favorite restaurants for your journey.

“Certainly the charter service of business jets is not cheap, but people started to realize that it’s not actually a waste of money. It’s much more convenient, safer and more comfortable.” Sumie Kamegata of Excel Air told WIFM.


Tokyo City View; Courtesy Excel Air

While it may be true that private and business jets have become more accessible, they are still limited to people like corporate executives as a single flight can cost tens of millions of yen. Excel Air Service also operates passenger helicopters (the company prides itself on escorting F1 drivers and VIPs for the Japanese Formula One race). It may not be as flashy, but it certainly enables you to enjoy the city with a “different” view. Excel Air’s services also include helicopter cruise trips over Tokyo and Yokohama. Prices for a daytime trip over Tokyo cost just ¥8,500 for about 15 minutes including the main tourist spots such as Tokyo Tower, Akihabara and the famous Shinjuku skyscrapers.

“We started a helicopter service because many people dream of flying and we believe this would be one way to help them realize their dream. Last fiscal year saw some 43,000 people enjoy our cruise service. It seems younger people, like those in their twenties and thirties, tend to take a night cruise, while foreign customers seem to prefer a twilight one,” Kamegata said.

Even if you’ve lived in Tokyo for a long time, chances are, you haven’t seen the city from this far above. So why not try a once in-a-lifetime trip like this for an exhilarating change of scenery and pace?

Elegance in Motion — the Hermès chopper

There are many cross-branded luxury products on the market—Louis Vuitton with contemporary artist Takashi Murakami, Yohji Yamamoto with Puma, to name just two. But who would have expected a Hermès-branded chopper?

Courtesy Eurocopter Japan

Courtesy Eurocopter Japan

The French fashion house partnered with Eurocopter, the world No.1 helicopter manufacturer, to create a luxury chopper called “l’Hélicoptère par Hermès,” which was unveiled in 2007.

Based on Eurocopter’s EC 135 and designed by Gabriele Pezzini of Italy, it features saddle-stitched leather seats and a carpeted cockpit.

It’s widely known that Hermès began in 1837 supplying harnesses and bridles for carriages, and while developing into one of the most exclusive fashion house in the world created cross branded goods for automobiles.

So perhaps it’s only natural that Hermès has collaborated with Eurocopter, now that choppers are the most fashionable way to go.

Courtesy Exel Air

Courtesy Exel Air


Marubeni Aerospace

Eurocopter Japan

Excel Air Service

Mori Building City Air Service

Asahi Helicopter

Yuhi Airlines Corporation