Japan to smooth foreign pilots’ path to flight licenses

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Planes are seen at Haneda Airport.

In a bid to secure foreign pilots who can start work immediately as demand for flights returns, the transport ministry plans to ease the requirements for obtaining a Japanese flight license, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will exempt foreign pilots with sufficient experience from taking a flight test when they switch a license issued in their country to a different type valid in Japan. Instead, only a flight simulator test will be necessary.

As of January, there were 231 foreign pilots working for major Japanese airlines. That figure was less than half the 517 in the same month two years previously, due to flight cutbacks and cancellations amid the pandemic.

However, flight demand is recovering as the economy returns to normal.

Several years are needed to train copilots and about 10 years to train captains, making it difficult to increase the number of pilots in a short period of time. The ministry is trying to make it easier to utilize foreign personnel who are ready to fly airplanes in Japan.

Aircraft licenses are generally divided into two types — one for jets and another for propeller planes. When converting a foreign license to a Japanese license, a flight test is not required as long as both licenses are for the same type of aircraft. Just a flight simulator test is required in that case.

A flight test is currently required to attain a Japanese license to fly a different type of aircraft.

The ministry will revise relevant memorandum based on the Civil Aeronautics Law by the end of this month at the earliest, allowing foreign pilots with at least 2,000 flight hours to take a simulator test to switch their license to fly a different type of aircraft.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

This will make it easier to convert foreign licenses for jets to Japanese licenses for propeller aircraft. It is also expected to help secure work-ready foreign pilots on regional routes and remote islands, among other areas, where only propeller-driven aircraft fly.

The easing of requirements will apply to foreign licenses issued by member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Only high-performance flight simulators approved by the Japanese government will be used for tests.

“We’ll ensure a quality level equal to that of flight tests,” a transport ministry official said.

For airlines, this measure is likely to reduce the burden of aircraft maintenance and coordination among airports associated with flight tests. Since there are no fuel costs involved, the ministry expects to be able to reduce hiring costs by several hundred thousand yen per employee.

In July last year, the ministry began accepting online applications to convert foreign licenses to Japanese licenses. The ministry also plans to review the physical and other checks currently required for pilots aged 60 or older, including Japanese pilots.

Discussions on creating an environment in which elderly pilots can continue to work will begin this fiscal year.