In the latter half of 2009, two young politicians challenged the status quo of investing in airport infrastructure with no regard to its cost, need, long-term viability, or the damage sustained to Japan’s position as a leader in the Asia-Pacific aviation market.
Toru Hashimoto, Governor of Osaka, and Seiji Maehara, Transport Minister, have challenged the split domestic and international airport operations in Osaka and Tokyo. Taking on special interest groups, both men have championed the need for Japan to have world-class international hub airports. Japan, its airlines, and airports are only weakened by maintaining split domestic and international operations at Itami and Kansai airports in Osaka, and at Haneda and Narita airports in Tokyo.
Maehara-san indicated his desire to turn Haneda airport into an international hub operation with the opening of the new fourth runway in October, 2010. While Hashimoto-san’s need to stop financial subsidies to Kansai airport, to lessen the burden on Osaka taxpayers, is behind his plan to close Itami airport. The funds raised from the sale of the property would be used to build a maglev train line linking Kansai airport with downtown Osaka. Creating a competitive international airport hub for Western Japan in the process.
With positive outcomes for both Tokyo and Osaka airports, there will be major implications for all other airports in Japan who are facing major challenges of their own. At the same time, with Japan Airlines working through its own restructuring, the relief from not having to fly to uneconomic domestic airports across the country without sufficient market demand, will be a huge financial burden lifted from the airline’s shoulders.
Japan’s geographical advantage, on the edge of the North Western Pacific Ocean, combined with a rational airport policy, will allow the country, the people of Japan, and airlines to benefit from its excellent airport infrastructure, competing effectively against competitor gateways in the region. Benefits can then accrue to the tourism industry from a larger viable air network serving the country, creating more travel options, and in turn, accessing more overseas markets.