Greater Tokyo’s third international airport Ibaraki has opened, joining Narita International Airport and the city’s expanding Haneda airport in serving the Japanese capital.
Ibaraki is Japan’s 98th civilian airport and has been built at the Air Self-Defense Force’s (ASDF) Hyakuri base in Omitama, Ibaraki Prefecture, about 80km northeast of central Tokyo. Ibaraki Governor Masaru Hashimoto said at a pre-opening ceremony at the weekend: “We hope this will contribute to regional development… and attract the interest of discount carriers.”
Despite being positioned as an international hub, the airport opens with only two confirmed carriers, Korea’s Asiana and Japan’s domestic low-cost-carrier Skymark.
The airport is even further from central Tokyo than Narita, which is located in Chiba Prefecture 50km from the capital. Narita is connected to Tokyo by train services and regular limousine buses. Haneda is located in the much more accessible Tokyo Bay area and is due to open a new runway in October this year.
Skymark Airlines is to start daily round-trip service between the Western Japanese city of Kobe and Ibaraki from April 16. Asiana Airlines will offer daily round-trip service between Ibaraki and Incheon starting Wednesday, and two to three flights a week from Busan several months later.
The Ibaraki airport authority hope to promote the airport as a non-congested hub for the region’s budget carriers as well private business jets. There are an estimated 20 million people within a 100km radius of the airport. Landing fees will be around half that of Haneda. The airport claims connections to central Tokyo will take around 85 minutes by limousine bus.
According to Senzo Kuriyama, head of inbound travel at KNT, the main purpose of Korean visitors will be to visit the many golf courses in Ibaraki prefecture rather than to travel to Tokyo itself.
The airport took $220million to build and both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines have refused to use it. Megumi Tezuka, an ANA spokeswoman told reporters: “We couldn’t see the economic rationale behind it. We’re also focusing on expanding our presence at Narita and Haneda this year.”
The airport development has also been politically controversial since it mixes civilian facilities with a military airbase, which is seen by some in Japan as legitimising the role of the country’s Self Defence Force (SDF), of which the ASDF is its aviation arm.
According to Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, the country is prevented from having any military forces. However, the SDF is estimated to have one of the ten largest military budgets in the world.