So many helipads in Tokyo, so little use

TOKYO • Tokyo's Peninsula Hotel boasts a chauffeur-driven 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom, a celebrity podiatrist studio and an aviation lounge to whisk executives to and from its US$1,000 (S$1,400)-a-night suites by helicopter. Since it opened in 2007, the rooftop helipad has never been used.

The hotel is one of about 80 buildings in the Japanese capital with a helipad, more than any other city in the world, but most are rarely if ever used. Partly, this is because of the neighbours. Japan's noise restrictions and local and national government rules mean that the few choppers in the Tokyo skies tend to be ferrying government officials or television crews.

But the helipads are there, and as the world's biggest city adds more tall buildings, their number is rising. They are waiting for an earthquake or disaster.

Like Los Angeles, which has the most helipads of any city in North America, Tokyo sits uneasily on major tectonic faults that rattle its buildings regularly.

Japan started advising developers to build helipads on buildings over 45m around 1990, though there is no law requiring them to do so, said Mr Keisuke Usuba, a spokesman for the Tokyo Fire Department.

"When a building gets too high, then fire ladders can't reach the top," said Mr Usuba.

"We ask people to put a helipad if possible. Still, if there's a fire, we may have to hover above the building to evacuate people because of the hot currents."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'So many helipads in Tokyo, so little use'. Print Edition | Subscribe