Maehara eyes turning Haneda into 24-hour hub airport for international flights

Kyodo News

Transport minister Seiji Maehara indicated Monday his wish to turn Tokyo’s Haneda airport into a hub for international flights, an idea that, if realized, would represent a major shift in the government’s longstanding policy of routing most Tokyo-bound international flights to Narita airport.

Maehara disclosed the proposal in remarks to reporters after meeting Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto, who asked the central government to step up investment to turn Kansai International Airport, serving Osaka, into a hub airport. Maehara fell short of meeting Hashimoto’s demand for Kansai airport.

“There is no hub airport in Japan currently,” Maehara said. “With Narita serving international (flights) and Haneda domestic, South Korea’s Incheon airport has become the hub airport for Japan.”

Maehara noted the need for addressing the current situation of the aviation market surrounding Japan where Incheon International Airport in a Seoul suburb is increasingly used by Japanese travelers flying from provincial airports in Japan.

As one step to counter this trend, Maehara indicated eliminating the policy of routing most international flights bound for Tokyo to Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture and most domestic flights to Haneda airport, officially known as Tokyo International Airport, in the capital.

“By removing the principle of keeping apart domestic and international (services between the airports), we would like to gradually aim at turning Haneda into an international airport that can operate on a 24-hour (basis).”

On Kansai airport, Maehara said, “After building a solid hub in Japan, we would like to consider what to do about the three airports of Kansai, Itami and Kobe that serve the Kansai (region centering Osaka).”

After hearing what Maehara had to say about Kaisai, Hashimoto, who has been advocating making Kansai one of the two major hub airports in Japan, indicated that the Osaka prefectural government would freeze from next fiscal year around 800 million yen in annual appropriations used to finance measures related to Kansai airport.

“If the policy is that Kansai is a spoke (linked to a hub), there is no need for disbursing prefectural funds,” Hashimoto told reporters.

Haneda airport is scheduled to have its fourth runway open in October next year, which is expected to sharply boost its capacity to serve flights.