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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 11:00 03/29/2007
March 26, 2007

A Case for International Flights at Haneda Airport:
For Early Morning and Late Evening Flights

Takatoshi ITO (Professor, University of Tokyo)


At almost any major airport in Asia, the U.S. or Europe, you can see many arriving and departing passengers around in the airport facilities from the early morning until the late evening. In addition to air passengers, there are many more people visiting airport restaurants and shops for dining, shopping and browsing all day long.

In contrast, Narita International Airport, Japan's gateway, is very quiet in the morning (before the first departing flight time around 8:50 a.m.) and in the evening (after 7:00 p.m.), because the airport is closed for departure and arrival between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Due to the restriction, one cannot go too far from Narita for a day trip.

This problem with Narita Airport can be solved by allowing international flights to and from Haneda Airport (Tokyo International Airport) in the early morning and the late evening. If you could fly from Haneda around midnight, you would be able to arrive in major European cities such as Paris, London and Frankfurt at dawn the next day and attend early morning business meetings over there. Furthermore, if you leave Europe around 10 a.m. or so, you could arrive at Haneda by 6:00 a.m. the next day and attend business meetings in downtown Tokyo the first thing in the morning. Similarly, tourists could make use of their vacation time in a more efficient manner.

By doing so, Japan would become competitive vis--vis Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore in terms of round-trip accessibility to Europe. You might also visit Beijing, Hong Kong, or Manila and possibly return to Japan on the same day, if you wish.

In addition to better access for air passengers, more efficient use of Haneda Airport would yield substantial economic benefits. First, there could be more Tokyo-based financial institutions and, therefore, making Tokyo more like to be an international financial center. Second, Tokyo might possibly become Asia's gateway. Third, there would certainly be more international travel to and from Japan's local cities, due to better domestic connections at Haneda. Fourth, demand for various services and employment would be stimulated for airport-related industries in the Haneda and Tokyo area, and more business opportunities would be created for airline companies in Japan.

Currently, details are being planned regarding Haneda's daytime service for international routes, which will start in 2010, when the fourth runway will be completed. As far as Haneda's service for early morning and late evening international flights is concerned, however, we do not have to wait for another 3 years. In fact, it could be done as soon as the decision is made by the Japanese government.

In the context of Japan's international politico-economic strategy, it is quite important to upgrade the nation's airports in terms of accessibility and convenience. It is also a kind of policy that is visible and appealing to the international community. Now, the following policy recommendations are in order.

Negotiations with foreign countries should be conducted for early morning and late evening flights to and from Haneda, while treating domestic and foreign carriers equally. Necessary investment should be done to improve airport infrastructure (immigration, quarantine, customs, and public transportation to downtown Tokyo).

There should be a better connection between domestic terminals and international terminals that will be newly built at Haneda. At least, underground shuttle train service is necessary for that purpose.

Arrangements should be made for shuttle air service with neighboring cities such as Seoul to enable passengers to complete all the procedures for immigration, quarantine and customs before boarding at departure cities. This way, shuttle airplanes could directly arrive at domestic terminal gates to save time for entry and transfer to domestic flights.

Finally, in future international negotiations, focus should be placed on Asian countries that are close to Japan in economic ties, and the so-called "open sky agreements" should be sought to liberalize the choice of airports and the number of flights. Then, a new framework could be provided for private airline companies to be able to adjust their flight arrangement, without governmental negotiations and approval, in response to market demand and supply just by filing a notice with the authorities.

(The original Japanese article appeared in the March 24, 2007 issue of Weekly Toyo Keizai)

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