Japan favours open-sky pact with United States, European Union

Friday, June 20, 2008, 19:42 by Aviation Correspondent

Top economic policy-makers of Japan are in favour of entering into an open-sky agreement with the United States and the European Union. The Japanese government’s top economic policy advisory council has asked the Ministry of Transport to take “deregulation steps to improve access to Japan from abroad so that Tokyo can improve its status as a major financial centre and the country can attract more foreign travelers,” media reports said.

Japan’s Ministry of Transport, the reports added, has been disinclined towards open-sky pacts on the ground that Tokyo’s two main airports – Narita and Haneda – have limited capacity.

Narita mainly caters to international flights and Haneda to domestic flights.

As of now, Japan has open-sky agreements with a number of Asian countries, but the pacts exclude Narita and Haneda airports.

Japan’s economic policy advisory council also proposed that a greater number of international flights be allowed at Haneda Airport when it raises its capacity by about 40% in 2010.

Haneda Airport is run by Japan Airport Terminal Company, in which Macquarie Airport MAX.AP of Australia holds a stake of around 20%.

Haneda, the busiest airport in Japan, consistently ranks among the world’s busiest passenger airports (ranking 4th in 2006), even though nearly all of its flights are to destinations within Japan. Considering passenger throughput, Haneda is the busiest airport in Asia, having handled 65.3 million passengers in 2006.

Besides, Haneda Airport is more conveniently located in Ota near downtown Tokyo than Narita Airport, which is about 60 kilometres away.

Business groups in Japan, reports say, have been repeatedly requesting the Japanese government to increase international flights from Haneda, especially to nearby Asian countries.

Japan’s Economics Minister Hiroko Ota was quoted as saying after the meeting of the economic policy advisory council: “Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told the council that it is important to realise flights from Haneda to Asian countries.”

It is said that the Ministry of Transport is reluctant to shift international flights to Haneda from Narita mainly because the ministry has promised local municipalities around Narita that Narita airport will be the sole international airport for the Tokyo area.

Narita International Airport, located in Narita, Chiba, in the eastern portion of the Greater Tokyo Area, handles the majority of international passenger traffic to and from Japan. It is also a major connecting point for air traffic between Asia and the Americas.

Narita is the second-busiest passenger airport in Japan, the busiest air-freight hub in Japan, and the fifth-busiest air-freight hub in the world. It serves as the main international hub of Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways and is a major hub for Northwest Airlines and a focus city for United Airlines.

After its fourth runway opens in 2010, Haneda Airport will offer twice as many slots for international flights, allowing flights to Europe.

According to a statement from Japan’s Ministry of Transport, once the capacity of Haneda is raised by 40%, the government will allow late-night and early-morning takeoffs and landings. That would enable the airport to handle 60,000 overseas flights a year – up from the original plan for about 30,000 flights a year.

With a view to making Tokyo more attractive as a financial centre, a high-speed rail link between Tokyo and Narita Airport is scheduled to open in 2010 – which would cut the journey time to Narita Airport from Nippori station in Tokyo to 36 minutes from 51 minutes.