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Exclusive: Tokyo's "new" and convenient gateway

29 Mar 2010 by BusinessTraveller

Tokyo’s former Haneda domestic airport is being reopened for long-haul flights later this year.  And SIA is tipped to be the first such airline to land at this convenient airport when it launches a service from Singapore on October 31.

Schedules now posted on singaporeair.com reveal that SIA will operate twice daily flights with newish B777-300ERs equipped with its latest premium products. 

Services will operate as follows:

  • SQ634  Singapore-Tokyo Haneda 1540-2305SQ636 Singapore-Tokyo Haneda 2220-0545
  • SQ633 Tokyo Haneda-Singapore 0015-0640SQ635 Tokyo Haneda-Singapore 0655-1320

Flight time is 6hrs 25 mins outward and 7 hrs 25 mins on the return.

In time-honoured fashion SIA will offer connections at its Singapore hub to cities in Asia and Australasia. The new route will also benefit European travellers when combining visits to both Singapore and Tokyo. For the time being, SIA’s existing twice daily flights into Tokyo Narita remain unchanged.

“Close-in” Haneda used to be Tokyo’s gateway airport until 1978 when “far-out” Narita opened. The decision was then taken to concentrate domestic flights at Haneda and transfer international services to Narita.

But the move has never gone down well with travellers because (according to trade bible OAG) Narita is 41 miles/66km out of town compared to Haneda which is just 12 miles/19km from downtown Tokyo.

Passengers arriving into Narita off a long-haul flight face an hour’s train ride or a tiring two hour bus ride to get downtown. Taxis are available but the ride sets you back an arm and a leg. By contrast, Haneda is linked to central Tokyo by swift monorail (transit time 20 mins), conventional trains, a regular bus service and less expensive taxis. 

Recently the authorities have begun to allow more international flights to use Haneda. The idea is to promote competition between Tokyo’s two airports and boost the aviation industry. 

The first batch of services have started. But they cover shortish regional flights to the likes of Hong Kong, Seoul and Beijing. The next and more controversial stage sees Haneda welcoming long distance flights.   

Airlines like Haneda because its convenience means they can charge business people higher fares. That is why several US carriers are queuing up to gain access. The likes of American, Delta, Continental and United have applied to run flights into Haneda from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

No definite start dates have been announced. All these carriers will say is that they hope, assuming permission is granted, to commence flying “late this year.” 

So far neither of Japan’s big two, JAL or ANA, have announced any intention of flying long-haul from Haneda. But that is probably because they may be reluctant to transfer flights from Narita after having invested huge sums there in terminal and maintenance facilities.

On the other hand, European carriers such as British Airways, Air France and KLM are keen to serve Haneda. But the Europeans face a problem with curfew restrictions at their home bases.

Let me explain. To ensure that long-haul airlines remain at Narita, the aviation authorities have imposed onerous restrictions. If a long-haul carrier wishes to use Haneda it can only arrive or depart between the hours of around 2300 at night and around 0600 in the morning.

That does not present too much of a problem when flying to Singapore. But if BA were to schedule a flight leaving Haneda at 2300 (a time which would enable a full day’s work for business people) it would fall foul of the Heathrow curfew. It would be a similar situation with KLM at Schiphol and while Air France might manage an early arrival into CDG it would be at a time when the rest of Paris is shut down.

The solution for an early arrival in Europe would be to depart Haneda in the middle of the night, say at 0300, but who would want to board at such an unsocial hour knowing they faced a 13 hour flight ? We await developments as it could be that Haneda’s tough restrictions are eased in the future.

And what of Haneda itself? Tokyo’s second airport hides its light under a bushel. It is little-known to travellers outside Japan, yet by dint of its voluminous domestic traffic Haneda is one of the world’s busiest airports.

Last year Haneda handled 62 million passengers (almost as many as London Heathrow). Its capacity is being extended to 90 million, and it is open 24 hour a day. This year the airport will open a fourth runway and a third terminal.

For more information visit tokyo-airport-bldg.co.jp/en/, singaporeair.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

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