TOKYO (Nikkei)–As Transport Minister Seiji Maehara aims to transform Tokyo’s Haneda airport into a hub for international flights, he faces a slew of challenges that could hinder his plans.
Since the opening of Narita International Airport in 1978, Haneda has handled mainly domestic flights. Since 2001, it has begun handling some chartered flights to such Asian destinations as Seoul. And with a new fourth runway slated to become available in October 2010, proponents of expanding Haneda’s international functions are speaking up.
Given its closer proximity to central Tokyo, the business community and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government have lobbied for more international flights at Haneda. Since it already handles domestic flights, travelers in regional areas would have an easier time catching international flights were Haneda to offer them.
But the idea of giving Haneda more international flights does not sit well with Chiba Prefecture, where Narita is located.
“If both airports end up fighting each other for flights, they could both lag behind global competitors,” Chiba Prefecture Gov. Kensaku Morita says.
Such opposition has even forced Maehara to tone down his rhetoric.
“We won’t move international flight routes from Narita to Haneda,” he said, stressing that integrated management of Narita and Haneda would benefit both.
But if Haneda starts accepting more international flights, foreign airlines and discount carriers could start seeking slots at the airport. Becoming an international airport would also eventually necessitate runway expansions and other infrastructure investment. And if domestic flights were reduced to handle more international routes, regional governments would likely complain.
(The Nikkei Oct. 14 morning edition)