What if your company wanted to fly to a major city - New York, say - for a series of critical meetings but you first had to secure permission to land at one of the half dozen area airports due to shortages of parking spaces. And you could stay for only three days? And only eight slots were available per day - four in and four out - for all general aviation traffic. And once you arrive, there are no FBOs, and they park you a couple miles from the passenger terminal you have to use to get to the street?

Well, welcome to Tokyo (but such constraints exist in other venues throughout much of the world).

It comes as a surprise to many, but Tokyo's Narita International Airport until recently operated with only one runway. The airport finally got its second runway a few years ago, but the paucity of real estate in this island nation manifests itself in restrictions on access to airports and the ATC system.

Matt Pahl, manager of operations services for Rockwell Flight Information Solutions, explains how it works at Tokyo's two civil airports, Narita and Haneda: “Operations are straightforward, following ICAO procedures for the most part. Once on the ground they don't have traditional FBOs, just a general parking ramp area. Services are typically brought to the aircraft, and passengers and crew are bused to the main terminal for clearing customs; there is no dedicated processing for general aviation - you must go through a passenger terminal. If it's an international arrival, you must enter through the customs processing line with everyone else. Fingerprints and photos are taken, and occasionally a brief conversation with an immigration officer might occur.” Availability and quality of fuel are good at both airports.

Both airports are ports of entry:

Haneda Airport (RJTT; official name: Tokyo International Airport) is a 24-hr. operation with strictly enforced slots; also, the slot window is very tight - a plus or minus 15-min. window. Eight slots are available each day for general aviation between the hours of 0600 and 2300 (four for arrival and four for departure). There is also a restriction on parking: Maximum is five days, with a rare extension to seven.

The airport authority would like seven working days for processing slot applications for direct international arrivals and departures. There are preferred routes in and out of Haneda, particularly at night due to noise control (when ATC directs arriving aircraft over the water to suppress noise), and these kick in at 2300 local and apply until 0600.

Haneda has three runways: 4/22, 8,200 ft., and parallels 16/34L and R at 9,800 ft. each. Field elevation is 21 ft. Haneda tends to be more of a domestic airport, Pahl said, noting, “There are hangars there, but don't expect access to them unless you need maintenance.” From the airport, it takes 20 to 30 min. to drive downtown.

Narita International Airport (RJAA) operates from 0600 to 2300 for general aviation arrivals and departures for customs and immigration. “You can park seven days max, there are no hangars, and parking is concentrated in one central area at the south end of the airport,” Pahl said. Typically now, business aircraft are directed to the new runway, 16L/34R, which was extended to 8,202 ft. in 2009. The other runway, which for years was the only runway at Narita, is 16R/34L, 13,123 ft., and is generally reserved for large commercial aircraft.

The newer runway is “way out,” Pahl said, and the taxi time to and from is lengthy, as much as 30 min. each way. Passengers and crew must clear CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine) at the main passenger terminal. Sixteen slots per hour are available for all categories of operation. (Sometimes slots are restricted due to parking availability.) Slots can be approved for no earlier than 0600 and no later than 2300 local. The slot window is more flexible, however: plus or minus 59 min. from the approved times, essentially a second slot, or a 2-hr. window in total. The new runway has increased the number of general aviation slots available, as prior to its construction, general aviation slots were limited to four per day. “We have no trouble obtaining slots, however,” Pahl said. Drive time to downtown can be as long as 90 min. but averages an hour.

Visas are not required for U.S. citizens or those of many other countries for tech stops or visits to Japan. “A crew change may occur,” Pahl said, “but visas still won't be required. No permits are required for overflights, but there is an application that must be submitted to the Japan Civil Aviation Board [JCAB] requesting slots for either Narita or Haneda.” If by chance an operator had to land at one airport and reposition to the other, a domestic operating approval would be necessary from the JCAB to operate the leg.

“Apply as early as possible,” Pahl advised, “they typically issue slots monthly around the 15th or 20th of the month; the handlers will have the information. Getting what you want depends on availability of slots.” The domestic operating approval permit described above requires three working days to obtain. Operators must supply the IDs of passengers and crew in the application.

Surface traffic in Tokyo can be daunting, so plan accordingly. It is very expensive to operate in Japan, so again, plan accordingly. Landing, parking and other airport fees are stunningly high. “Depending on the exchange rate, you can have third party [i.e., airport] fees as high as $5,000 for a visit,” Pahl said. “Ground handling service fees tend to mirror other parts of the world, however.”