NARITA, CHIBA PREFECTURE >> The Tokyo area’s two international gateways are looking to push Japan’s soaring tourist numbers even higher while also putting their Asian rivals on notice by adding more international flights ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Starting in late March, Japan’s biggest airport, Tokyo International Airport in Haneda, is set to add 50 international routes per day, when the government will allow aircraft to fly over central Tokyo during the day.
That would raise the number of international passengers at Haneda by 7 million, to reach 25 million per year, unseating Kansai International Airport as the nation’s second-busiest in terms of international traffic. Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture is the busiest.
With the additional flights, the number of international passengers at the two major Tokyo airports would rise to 57 million per year, pulling it closer to rival Asian hubs Singapore (62 million), Seoul (66 million) and Hong Kong (72 million).
“In terms of attracting foreign companies and improving the convenience of airports, Singapore airport is the model that Japanese airports have to emulate,” said aviation analyst Kotaro Toriumi. “That’s why they are beefing up international flights at Haneda. Transit passengers from abroad will also be able to easily enjoy tours in Tokyo for a day or half a day, since it takes more time to get to the heart of Tokyo from Narita.”
It’s not only Haneda that’s getting a capacity boost.
Amid signs of improving relations with China, the Narita airport emerged as an unexpected beneficiary last month when Beijing and Tokyo agreed to scrap a cap on landing slots at Chinese airports.
Narita is hoping to secure a significant boost in the number of flights to Shanghai and Beijing.
Chinese airlines had previously been unable to add a single flight because of the restrictions, which had been in place for years, said Koichi Okawara, executive director of Narita International Airport Corp.
“We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries from Chinese airlines, and we’re hoping to see a significant boost in the number of flights from the winter schedule,” Okawara said.
The efforts have already begun to pay off. Chinese budget carrier Spring Airlines has introduced a new route between Narita and Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
Nationwide, numerous airports plan to beef up flights ahead of the Olympics, from New Chitose in Hokkaido to Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture. The government is aiming to increase the number of foreign visitors to 40 million by 2020 and 60 million by 2030. This year, the number will likely be between 32 and 33 million, said analyst Toriumi.
Toriumi predicted that tourism generated by the Rugby World Cup would offset a recent sharp decline in South Korean visitors, the result of worsening bilateral ties. South Korea accounted for nearly a quarter of all foreign tourists to Japan last year, but visitors from the country fell 58.1%.
“Despite a big boost from the flight expansions at Haneda and Narita, it remains unclear whether foreign visitors will reach 40 million in 2020 amid the negative factor in South Korea,” Toriumi said. “After 2020, the number of visitors would likely hover between 40 million and 50 million. To bring it to a 60 million goal for 2030, further expansions in capacity, for example, at airports in Osaka, Fukuoka, Okinawa and Sapporo, would be needed, as well as a trump card of nullifying visa requirements for travelers from China and other countries.”
If Japan were to abolish visa requirements for Chinese travelers, who topped 1 million for the first time in July, it would add at least 10 million more visitors, Toriumi said.
For now, the additional flights over central Tokyo will mean more revenue.
Maximizing the efficiency of Haneda’s four runways and increasing international flights annually by 39,000 — to reach 99,000 within the peak hours of 6 a.m. to 10:55 p.m. — will lead to an economic windfall of more than 650 billion yen (close to $6 billion) annually, according to projections by the transport ministry.
The new flight paths will add a total of 50 new landing slots at Haneda, all international flights. The U.S. received the biggest allocation of 24 slots, followed by eight slots awarded to China.
In a bid to allay concerns about increased aircraft noise pollution, All Nippon Airways is accelerating a shift to quieter aircraft such as Boeing 777s and 787s and retiring older Boeing 767s, said Hiro Miyagawa, head of global communications at ANA Holdings Inc.
In the long term, the transport ministry is planning to increase the annual number of flights at Haneda and Narita to 1 million, from the current 750,000.
Narita Airport will also see a major technical update next spring with implementation of the One ID smart biometric identification system, which makes document-free shopping and boarding possible. It will be a first for Japan.