BUT 24-HOUR AIRPORTS SAID LACKING

Corporate jets attracting more Japanese clients

by Asako Takaguchi

“Why don’t you get into my flying car?”

Major trading companies are using catchphrases like this to promote the use of private jets as transportation available anytime and anywhere.

Since their major targets are corporate bigwigs and rich travelers, their main strategy is to publicize the comfortable environment such a jet can offer.

ShareJet, a U.S. company affiliated with Japanese trading house Sojitz Holdings Co., leases an airplane equipped with beds, showers and bathrooms.

The modified Boeing 737 was originally designed to seat about 200 people. But to create a comfortable interior with ample space and such amenities as sofas and desks, the plane was modified to seat only 18.

Throw in the astronomical cost of jet fuel and maintenance costs, and the fee for renting the luxury jet comes to a cool $12,500 (1.37 million yen) per hour.

Needless to say, ShareJet’s customers tend to be wealthy and sometimes include members of royal families visiting from overseas, Sojitz said.

A foreign businessman who has used the plane said it is attractive because you can take a shower and change clothes during the flight.

The jet’s major Japanese users include businesspeople in the information-technology industry, Sojitz said.

Marubeni Corp. has been a sales agent in Japan for Gulfstream jets from the United States since 1998. The smaller private jets seat anywhere between seven and 19 passengers and cost 1.5 billion yen to 5 billion yen.

In the last seven years, Marubeni has sold more than 20 private jets to major firms and the Japan Coast Guard.

To cash in on the business, the trading house recently strengthened services for maintenance and pilot procurement.

Itochu Corp., another major trading house, has become active in selling airplanes built by Cessna of the U.S.

According to Marubeni, companies that buy private jets use them like cars.

“Some investors overseas live in areas far from hub airports, so it is convenient for (companies to use private jets) to visit three to four places (where investors dwell) in a day,” a Marubeni official said.

There are about 13,000 private jets worldwide, but only a few are owned by Japanese, according to Sojitz.

One major reason is because Japan is not an airport-friendly country and doesn’t have many airports that operate around the clock, company officials said.

But more companies are finding private planes necessary to cope with globalization, some analysts said.

Toyota Motor Corp. uses a few of the small private planes to move its top executives.

“They can move anytime without a transfer. As you can’t buy time by money,” a Toyota representative said. “Considering that, we don’t think the expenses (to use such jets) are high.”

Masaki Nakatani, secretary general of the Japan Business Aviation Association, a nonprofit organization formed by jet-related companies, expects the corporate jet market to develop further.

“I think demand for corporate jets that can let people move quickly will continue to grow mainly in Asia,” he said.