AWESOMENESS ALERT: Ark Hills to get Chopper Flights to Narita!

Joe has previously written about the potential for corporate and personal jets to make it big in Japan, what with Japan’s massive excess of airports previously noted in this post. Joe also pointed out the enormous heliports in Shin-Kiba, a relatively remote and underutilized location.

For me, when I look at a Google Maps satellite view of Tokyo, all I see is wasted potential. Almost every major skyscraper in Tokyo has a rooftop heliport. Narita Airport is infamously far away from the center of Tokyo (and even more galling, Japan’s famous bullet trains don’t run to Narita, despite the fact that this would be the best way to promote the symbol of technological Japan to the world). There is a helicopter service that flys between Narita Airport and heliports in Tokyo, Gunma and Saitama — probably a good thing for the few rich executives living out in mountain ranches in Gunma — but basically pointless for those in Tokyo. Why? For some reason, it’s located out in Shin-Kiba, a relatively remote area near Tokyo bay, and requires a taxi ride from the station if you’re taking the train.

Joe and I have discussed this in the past as utterly pointless. The chopper flight costs thousands of dollars, yet if you live in most parts of urban Tokyo, it takes the same amount of time to get there as taking the express train or bus! Why, we lamented, can’t the Tokyo heliport be the top of the Shin-Maru building in Marunouchi, or atop of Roppongi Hills? That’s a type of service that executives and bankers could probably use, and it could probably get enough interest to level-up from a charter flight to a quasi-regular heli-bus service.

But there’s breaking news on this front: starting next month, Ark Hills in the Akasaka/Roppongi area, one such building with an unused heliport on its roof, will become a heliport offering chopper flights to Narita Aiport! This is even more awesome for everyone’s favorite Viceroy because I work in Ark Hills! (Although it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to afford the inevitably overpriced fare.) Here’s an excerpt from the Nikkei story:

Mori Building Co. will start in April helicopter charter service between Narita airport and Ark Hills, a major commercial complex it owns in central Tokyo, targeting foreign business executives visiting Japan on company-owned private jets.

President Minoru Mori has been nursing the idea for many years, feeling himself that the two hours it takes to travel from Narita to the firm’s headquarters is annoyingly long. From the airport to central Tokyo, for example, takes about an hour by express train. The charter flights will be serviced with rented helicopters until an aircraft purchased from Eurocopter for 500 million yen arrives in May.

Helicopter services between Narita airport and Tokyo are already available, but most of the flights, operated by companies like Excel Air Service Inc., use Tokyo Heliport in Shinkiba, close to the southeastern edge of the city… Ark Hills’ prime location, in Minato Ward, gives Mori Building a competitive edge over its rivals.

The helicopter service is also intended to make areas around Ark Hills more attractive places to locate businesses. Mori Building currently owns and manages a total of 110 business and multipurpose buildings, and many of them are situated in Minato Ward. The company estimates that as of the end of March, 95% of the space will be filled with tenants and that the average rent per 3.3 sq. meters will be 36,000 yen, up 12.5% year on year.

Here’s a Google Maps look at the Ark Hills heliport — scroll around a bit to see lots of other helipads on other neighboring tall buildings.

The service is supposed to go public next month, but one of the first beneficiaries of direct flights from Narita to Roppong is Tom Cruise:


Hollywood star Tom Cruise (46) has brought his whole family to Japan with him for the first time. He arrived in Tokyo yesterday with his wife, actress Katie Holmes (30) and their daughter Suri (2). They flew by private jet into Narita Airport, where they were greeted by about 1,000 fans, before transferring to a helicopter for the trip to the Roppongi Ark Hills complex in central Tokyo. Cruise is in town to promote the WWII movie “Valyrie,” which opens here March 20, and the helicopter was painted with a promo for the flick. Cruise and family will be here until Thursday and attend the movie’s Japan premiere.

Regardless, I’m mighty please with the powers-that-be for finally listening to Joe (and my) recommendations to open up helicopter travel, and hope this is a harbinger of more good things to come.

13 thoughts on “AWESOMENESS ALERT: Ark Hills to get Chopper Flights to Narita!”

  1. How much will such a flight cost? Maybe you can spring for your 10th anniversary in another-what is it 7 years?

  2. Wow you work in Ark Hills? I’m just ten minutes away…and am in your building all the time.

  3. I noticed the Songshan announcement recently myself. I actually believe that the main reason for instituting that route is to avoid controversy over Songshan’s use in the recently instituted direct flights between Taiwan and China. Naturally, due to the status of relations between ROC and PRC those flights are neither officially international or domestic, but merely referred to as “cross straight.” Songshan was until recently classified as a domestic airport, but with domestic air travel shriveling up due to competition from the recently introduced Taiwanese shinkansen (高鐵) and all international travel having been moved some time ago to Taoyuan (nee Chiang Kai Shek) Airport, Songshan was supposed to be saved from superfluousness as the main hub for cross-straight flights. To avoid specifically classifying such flights as domestic, Songshan was reclassified as an international airport, maintaining the politically necessary ambiguity. However, cross-straight traffic has been significantly weaker than expected and so someone proposed adding “local” international flights to the mix. This also has the advantage of providing unambiguous international flights, allaying criticism that Songshan was reclassified as international purely for the cross-straight flights controversy.

    I should add, there is actually a third reason for Songshan’s reclassification. While Taoyuan airport is pretty good, it is almost an hour from central Taipei, and the rail link won’t be open until about 2013. While taking an hour to get to the airport doesn’t seem too bad when you’re flying around the world, for a hop over to Japan it adds a huge percentage of travel time. Songshan, actually the former location of a Japanese air force base, is RIGHT in the city-so close that I more than once biked to it from my house while exploring the city without even realizing where I was.

  4. BTW, this tidbit from Joe’s link is interesting too.
    “The MoU also includes additional 5th freedom rights out of Osaka for Taiwanese carriers.

    In addition to granting Los Angeles and Seattle in 2008, Japan is granting Taiwanese carriers the rights to operate passenger service to Dallas, Houston and New York.”
    Does that mean Taiwanese carriers might provide more direct service from Kansai and/or Taipei to New York?

  5. Yeah. Those fifth-freedom rights are pretty common. United and Northwest make tons of money on intra-Asia flights from Narita, and there are a few other cases of Asian carriers getting these rights through Japan (Singapore Airlines and Korean Air fly between Narita and LAX, and China Airlines flew to Honolulu through Haneda back in the 90s). JAL has a similar deal with the US for its insanely long Tokyo-New York-Sao Paulo run–they are allowed to carry local traffic between JFK and Brazil.

    These routes can be political sh-tstorms if they are only taking advantage of the intermediary market. Northwest had a JFK-KIX-Sydney flight back in the early 90s, but they had to pull it because the Japanese government complained. Only something like 10% of the passengers were making the full trip between JFK and Sydney, probably because Japan is so far out of the way compared to a nonstop, so the stopover seemed to simply be a way to cannibalize Japanese carriers’ market share to Australia. NYC-KIX-TPE is a bit more credible, though — makes more sense than Anchorage, at least.

  6. “NYC-KIX-TPE is a bit more credible, though—makes more sense than Anchorage, at least.”

    Well, that once interests me because currently there is no direct KIX-NYC service. You have to transfer either in Narita, or somewhere more West in the US, like Detroit or SF.

  7. Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. Kansai is a pretty crappy travel market. The local economy is based on heavy industry which isn’t well-connected with many other cities beyond East Asia. There are a lot of outbound tourists and more than a few inbound tourists, but they’re mostly of the stingy type that don’t really drive the airlines’ decision making, except to the extent that the airlines say “tell them to connect in Narita.”

  8. Kansai people rarely pay for first or business class. I can’t say why. Old-school Osaka makehen business culture? Everyone idolizes Matsushita-san?

  9. Lameness alert — according to a contact of mine who works at Mori Building:

    “The main heliport used is in Sakura as the airspace on NRT itself is often socked in with other traffic and the Sakura one does not have those limitations although it is only a short limo ride away. Limo in this case is not a bus but a limo. So NRT arrival (post customs) to ARK is 30 minutes which includes a short ride off the airport property to the adjacent heliprt and the a 15 minute flight to ARK.”

    Apparently it’s running for 38,000 yen each way.

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