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U.S. carriers feel Squeeze at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport

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Restaurants and shops at Tokyo International Air Terminal feature Edo-style carpentry and paintings of classic Kabuki plays. The existing Haneda Airport has been turned into an international air terminal with a new runway, train and monorail stations. Just a 20-minute monorail or cab ride from downtown Tokyo, the airport is expected to serve 60,000 flights and 7 million passengers annually.
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Airport staff gather at a ticketing counter as they prepare for the opening of Tokyo International Air Terminal on Oct. 21.

TOKYO » Haneda Airport will open up to international flights next month as Japan works to maintain Tokyo’s status as an Asian travel hub. But it comes with a big catch for U.S. airlines that have been squeezed into the least convenient time slots.

Opening Haneda to international flights makes a lot of sense for travelers. It’s just a 20-minute monorail or cab ride from downtown Tokyo. Narita, the Japanese capital’s other airport, requires at least an hour train ride, and the trip can take more than two hours when traveling by car on clogged roads.

With Asia booming compared to the stagnation in other parts of the world, and the airline industry on a recovery track from the hammering it took two years ago, hopes are high that the Oct. 21 start to international flights at Haneda will be a success. (Hawaiian Airlines will debut daily service to Haneda from Honolulu on Nov. 17.)

They could bring opportunities in new kinds of travel among Japanese, including to Hawaii, without hurting business at Narita. Tokyo, facing tougher competition from nearby airports such as Incheon in Seoul (to which Hawaiian Airlines will begin flights in January), also sees Haneda as an opportunity to protect its status as a vital stop for international airlines.

Yet the main beneficiaries from the change at Haneda are the two Japanese carriers, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, which is in bankruptcy protection after years of inefficiency and high costs brought it to the point of collapse. A handful of Asian carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Malaysian Airlines are also benefiting, to a lesser extent.

U.S. airlines are being restricted to flights that leave or arrive between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The slots made available to the Americans put them at a clear disadvantage since flights leaving in the early hours of the morning aren’t popular with many fliers. It takes two to three hours of maintenance and fueling for an aircraft to be ready for a new takeoff.

Hawaiian Airlines, which is breaking into the Japanese market with its Haneda-Honolulu service, received a near-midnight departure time and sees that as a plus — allowing a full day of work for Japanese travelers.

The flight arrives about noon in Hawaii, when hotel check-ins start. Departure time out of Honolulu is about 6 p.m., allowing returning travelers nearly a full day in Hawaii.

Hawaiian is also banking on its ability to deliver island ambiance en route to Hawaii, while making adjustments in its menu, adding Japanese-speaking crew and planning surprise giveaways to woo Japanese customers.

"We understand that there is no comprehensive network that any airline could have in Asia without having Japan and Tokyo as its keystone. This represents far more than one more route," Hawaiian President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Dunkerley said. "This represents the foundation of our Asia strategy."

For American Airlines, its flight from New York must stay in Haneda for eight hours before it takes off, complete with airport parking fees. Adding to the unevenly stacked game is the fact that the Japanese also can offer attractive flight connections from other parts of Japan because of their abundant routes to regional airports.

But the grumbling is surprisingly quiet among the U.S. carriers.

Negotiations on airline routes are carried out between the U.S. and Japanese governments and the reasons behind airline selections aren’t clearly disclosed. No one wants to rock the boat when Japan’s skies are finally starting to open up.

"We’d like other times in the future, obviously. We’d like better times in the future," said Theo Panagiotoulias, vice president and managing director Asia/Pacific for American Airlines, one of three U.S. airlines that won Haneda flights.

Another 30,000 flights are expected to be added at Haneda, but details are undecided, requiring more U.S.-Japan government talks, said Yoichi Hirai, Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp. vice president of corporate planning.

Hirai said the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. time slots for U.S. carriers stem from an initial Japanese government policy of limiting Haneda to closer destinations and keeping Narita as the main international airport.


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