Market Intelligence
Helicopters Japan Export Strategy

Japan Helicopter Industry

Japan possesses approximately 1,300 helicopters of combined military and civil use. They are owned by such entities as Japan Self-Defense Forces, the police, disaster relief and fire fighting agencies, Japan Coast Guard and commercial aviation service operators. The number of civil helicopters registered in Japan  increased in the past twelve years from 768 to 833 units.  

Ministry of Defense (MOD) possesses a total of 459 helicopters as of March 2019, as the largest helicopter operator in Japan. The Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) is equipped with 352 helicopters for such uses as anti-tank, observation and transport and multiple purposes. The Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) operates approximately 92 helicopters for patrol, minesweeping and transport uses. The Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has 15 helicopters available for transport uses.  MOD helicopters have been put to the search and rescue operations at the time of natural disasters including major earthquakes.

Three domestic manufacturers, namely, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) and Subaru Corporation, are engaged in manufacturing of helicopters mostly for military uses. In the civil helicopter market, the domestic models command less than 10% of the 800 registered helicopters.      

Best Prospects

Emergency medical services and disaster relief operations are among the most promising sectors for the future of the helicopter industry. The supply of spare parts is also a potential opportunity for further market growth in Japan’s helicopter industry.  

The helicopter operations for emergency medical services or the Doctor Heli program, with the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare backing, has been practiced in 44 prefectures or localities nationwide, using 53 helicopters as of January 2020.  The number of the emergency flights in 2017 totaled 22,115 cases, of which the two-thirds were deployed to on-site rescue operations.  

The helicopter models used as the Doctor Heli are KHI BK117, Eurocopter EC135 (now Airbus Helicopters), and MD Helicopters MD902. In order to catch up with the emergency medical practices in the U.S.A. and Europe, the Japanese government is stepping up to spread the Doctor Heli program nationwide, with a goal of increasing the number of helicopters to at least 80 units.  

The Japan Self-Defense Forces helicopters have been mobilized for relief operations at the time of major disasters, such as earthquakes, tidal waves and food waters.  At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces deployed 217 helicopters, 105 units from the JGSDF, 79 units from the JMSDF, and 33 units from the JASDF. The use of helicopters, both military and civil, is growing its importance in rescue and relief operations. 

Also, helicopter operators keep in stock a supply of critical spare parts for repair and maintenance service.  There is a potential opportunity for further market growth by promoting further efficiency in the distribution of spare parts from manufacturers to end-users. Helicopters have reportedly been grounded for lack of spare parts.

Prospective Buyers

Disaster relief and fire-fighting helicopters are procured by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and the Prefectural Fire Departments.  Also, police helicopters are procured by the National Police Agency and the Prefectural Police Departments.  The Japan Coast Guard procures observation, patrol and search and rescue helicopters to conduct border patrol over the Japanese territorial waters.  These governmental agencies continually update the helicopter fleets, providing the procurement opportunities for both replacements and new upgraded helicopters.

As mentioned above, the Doctor Heli program, is given a boost by the central government and offers additional procurement opportunities for medium-sized helicopters. However, private helicopter operators, as well as the news media, continue to offer the largest source of procurement to the civil helicopter makers. 

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