Tokyo's Haneda expansion promises global benefits

24 Feb 2010

Competition for landing rights at Tokyo’s Haneda airport is hotting up. Both long-haul and regional carriers jostling for slots when the airport’s new runway becomes operational in October.

Since the late 1970s, when Narita International Airport became the main hub for the Japanese capital, Tokyo’s former international hub at Haneda, which opened in 1952, has been handling mainly domestic flights. Its international operations have been restricted to northeast regional routes to Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and Hongkong. These international routes are operated by Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airlines (ANA), Korean Airlines, Air China, China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.

Haneda’s key advantages are first that it is only 18km from downtown Tokyo, compared to Narita’s two-hour bus or one-hour rail journey, and second that it is the country’s main locus for both domestic flights and key business cities in China and Korea.

Its partner airports in Shanghai (Hongqiao) and Seoul (Gimpo), similarly were once the main international hubs for their respective cities and are likewise closer to the city centres than the airports that replaced them, offering particular benefits for business travellers.

Given Japan’s status as a major hub for US trans-Pacific routes it is no surprise that most attention has focused on the offer of four routes to US airlines and the news that five airlines, Delta, Continental, American Airlines, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are all seeking landing rights with a variety of different route options. The changes are the results of an Open Skies deal agreed in December and which will come into force in October, just as Haneda’s new runway opens and it moves toward 24-hour operations.

The battle is all the more fascinating given the recent snub given to Delta by JAL, when it chose to retain its partnership with JAL and remain in the oneworld alliance rather than join Skyteam.

However, the Japanese authorities have also given the go-ahead for Haneda to accept European and more Asian flights.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has already announced that it will fly twice-daily flights between Singapore and Tokyo Haneda airport from October 2010, in addition to the same frequency into Narita. Other slots are likely to open up for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Taipei, with further possibilities for other cities in mainland China to join Beijing and Shanghai, believes Senzo Kuriyama, chief of inbound travel at KNT, one of Japan’s largest leisure and corporate travel company.

“The expansion of Haneda will really transform travel to Tokyo since it will be a 24-hour airport. Of course, this will only be positive if the Haneda flights bring in additional flights and passengers and don’t result in simply a shift of capacity from Narita to Haneda,” he says.

Kuriyama said that among the non-stop routes being considered from Europe are ones from Paris, London Heathrow, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

It is also expected that when the new winter schedules start, both JAL and ANA will take the opportunity to switch their late-night slots to Hongkong to daytime flights.

Kenny Coyle

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