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Tokyo company head lands in handcuffs over alleged illegal helicopter flights

Images of the helicopter used in the transport services are seen in this image taken from the Clearnet website.

TOKYO -- A company president in Tokyo has been arrested for allegedly illegally flitting customers to golf courses, on pleasure excursions and to other spots in his firm's helicopter, the Metropolitan Police Department's Safety Division announced June 9.

    Hideomi Sato, 48, head of Clearnet, a sharing service company for helicopters and other vehicles, is suspected of contravening the Civil Aeronautics Act for failing to get government authorization for the flights.

    His company is also set to be referred to prosecutors on June 10 as a corporation suspected of breaking the same law. Authorities suspect the firm earned around 80 million yen (about $730,800) from flights dating back to at least August 2017.

    The specific timeframe covered for the allegations relating to the arrest spans October 2019 to October 2020. Police suspect that a total of 340,000 yen (about $3,100) was accepted for transporting 16 people from a heliport in Tokyo's Koto Ward to a golf course in Shizuoka Prefecture, south of the capital, without the permission of the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism.

    In addition, Kazuma Nakamura, the 33-year-old president of an aviation transport agency in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, has been arrested on suspicion of breaking the Civil Aeronautics Act for allegedly gathering eight of 16 customers.

    The helicopter used to transport customers to a golf course is seen in this image taken from the Clearnet website.

    According to the metropolitan police's Safety Division, it can take years to obtain permission to offer paid helicopter transportation services. Companies must also accept government audits after permission is granted, which reportedly leads to increased personnel costs for security and other factors.

    Sato is reported to have admitted to the allegations, and was quoted as telling police, "The threshold for getting air transportation business approvals is high." Nakamura, meanwhile, has apparently denied the charge, stating, "I didn't think it would be illegal."

    The transportation plan was made by the golf course, which jointly owns the helicopter, and Sato -- who has a pilot's license -- sometimes flew the aircraft.

    Clearnet was founded in 2012. Apart from aircraft sales, it also manages helicopters, a yacht and high-end cars that it lends out to its paying members.

    There have been a number of accidents involving the firm's helicopters. In December 2020, a 46-year-old pilot died after the Clearnet helicopter he was flying crashed into a forest in Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture. In March 2021, another helicopter went down in a rice field in the village of Aoki in central Japan's Nagano Prefecture; all six people on board were injured.

    (Japanese original by Makoto Kakizaki, Tokyo City News Department)

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