TOKYO (Kyodo)–Transport minister Seiji Maehara said Wednesday that Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture and Haneda airport in Tokyo will maintain their roles in handling international and domestic flights, respectively, after his plan to turn Haneda into a hub for international flights caused a stir among local authorities.
”Narita will play a central role (in serving international flights), and there is no change to that,” Maehara told reporters after meeting with Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita who had criticized the plan.
But he also expressed his intention to make Haneda a 24-hour hub for international flights to meet an expected rise in air traffic during the meeting and gained understanding from Morita.
”We have drawn a clear distinction between Narita serving international flights and Haneda handling domestic flights. But we won’t be able to accept (passengers) unless domestic and international flights are allocated (to both Narita and Haneda),” Maehara said, indicating that in the future both airports will handle international flights ”in an integrated manner.”
After the meeting, Morita said he confirmed with the transport minister the basic principle that Haneda serves domestic flights and Narita is for international flights, adding they will promote dialogue to avoid misunderstanding from now on.
Within that basic framework, Morita said, he will act with ”flexibility” when Haneda becomes more international.
The meeting came after Maehara unveiled on Monday his idea of turning Haneda into a 24-hour international hub, which sparked concern among local governments, especially in Chiba Prefecture, as it would represent a shift in the government’s longstanding policy of routing Tokyo-bound international flights to Narita.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters Wednesday he expects Narita, Haneda and Kansai International Airport in Osaka to build mutually beneficial relations where each offers its own advantages to passengers.
”We share the same recognition that Japan lags behind other Asian nations and we are moving toward working together to catch up,” Hatoyama said.
The construction of a fourth runway at Haneda, officially known as Tokyo International Airport, is currently under way for its planned opening next October, which is expected to boost its capacity to offer 407,000 departure and arrival slots a year.
Maehara has expressed hope that half of the approximately 110,000 flight slots to be added upon completion of the fourth runway will be allocated for international flights.
Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, meanwhile, welcomed Maehara’s plan as it matches Tokyo’s efforts to boost the airport’s appeal as an international airport.
”When we think about maintaining national strength, there is no way other than to make better use of Haneda to bring back passengers (who fly overseas) via Incheon airport (in South Korea),” Ishihara said.
”But that does not mean we should cast out Narita. We should also use Narita in a more efficient way,” he added.