Japan to improve Haneda Airport

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Japan to improve Haneda Airport

TOKYO - Jacque Beihar scanned a wall map on the fourth floor of the international passenger terminal.

It was early in the evening on Nov. 30, and the American man had just arrived at Tokyo International Airport, more commonly known as Haneda.

“I just arrived here by a domestic airline,” he said. “I will go back to Los Angeles early tomorrow morning.”

The American recalled his experience on a similar trip to Korea. “When I visited Korea a few years ago, I arrived at Incheon International Airport and took a bus to Gimpo Airport to take a domestic airline to go to Jeju,” he said. “Haneda is much easier.”

Above his head, a signboard read, “Easier access to international airliners at the end of March 2014.”

In 2011, Incheon International Airport knocked Japan from its top spot for the most transit passengers in Northeast Asia, despite the fact that the island nation operates two international airport hubs, Narita International and Kansai International. Nowadays, Haneda handles nearly all domestic flights to and from Tokyo; it used to be an international hub, but turned over that responsibility to Narita in 1978.

However, Japan has recently been making large efforts to improve Haneda’s international passenger capabilities. And these moves, airline industry experts argue, are specifically designed to check Korea’s rise.

Currently, about 20 percent of the foreign travelers who transfer through Incheon International Airport are Japanese - about 40 percent of them are passengers who departed from regional airports around Japan and don’t want to go through the back-and-forth hassle between Narita and Haneda.

“When Haneda’s service in international routes is reinforced, Incheon will have to deal with a blow,” said Lee Seung-chang, a professor of business administration at Korea Aerospace University.

Located in an inland area of Chiba Prefecture, Haneda - built on reclaimed lands in the Tokyo Bay - can easily expand and operate around the clock with virtually no complaints from local residents, giving it a distinct advantage over Narita.

After building a new terminal in 2010, Haneda became free from a 2,000 kilometer (1,242 mile) operating restriction and started operating long distance routes. Nighttime flights to the United States and Europe are conducted from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m.

The newly completed terminal is also slated to expand. After construction is finished in March 2014, it will have 18 aprons, up from the current 10. With increased space for commercial jets to park, load and board, Haneda will be able to handle 60,000 daytime international flights and 30,000 nighttime international flights per year.

Right now, the airport handles 30,000 international daytime flights and an additional 30,000 nighttime flights annually.

“Starting next year, we will [have an additional 30,000] long-distance flights during the daytime,” Isao Takashiro, president of Japan Airport Terminal Company, said during a meeting with Korean journalists on Nov. 30.

To accommodate the expected increase in passengers, a transit hotel with 315 rooms will open next September. Because it is operated as a hub for domestic airliners, an improved service in international flights will also provide easier transfers for departing travelers outside Tokyo.

Japan is also working fast to occupy the rapidly growing low-cost air carrier market. At the end of last year, Kansai Airport completed construction on a low-cost terminal, which is designed to minimize operation costs for these smaller airlines.

Budget carriers welcomed the move.

“We expect to see profits two years from our company’s establishment,” said Naoto Domeki, the spokesman for Peach Aviation, which operates 10 domestic routes and six international flights in Haneda Airport’s low-cost terminal. Narita International Airport will also follow suit next year by opening an exclusive terminal for low-cost airlines.

Meanwhile, Korea is somewhat defenseless against Japan’s aggressive plan to reclaim its title as Northeast Asia’s premier hub.

Construction began this year on Incheon International Airport’s second terminal, which is scheduled for completion in 2017 - a five-year delay from the initial plan.

Gimpo International Airport also remains bound by the 2,000-kilometer restriction in operating international flights and only runs six routes.

Unlike Japan, Korea has no plan to build low-cost carrier terminals. Incheon reviewed the possibility about three years ago but dropped the plan after the second terminal’s construction was delayed.

“I want to create a low-cost terminal in Gimpo and market it as a hub for budget airliners,” said Kim Seok-ki, the president of Korea Airports Corporation.

However, so far his plan has been met with significant opposition from the government. Officials claim the plan will disturb Incheon International’s success as Northeast Asia’s No. 1 hub.

BY KIM HAN-BYUL [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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