Chiba governor gets Narita reassurance

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Transport minister Seiji Maehara assured Chiba Gov. Kensaku Morita on Wednesday that his plan to turn Tokyo’s Haneda airport into a 24-hour international hub won’t detract from the government’s position that Narita airport remains the country’s main global gateway.

“I suggested to the minister that both airports be viewed in an integrated manner and that the roles of the two be divided in an efficient way,” Morita told reporters at the transport ministry after meeting with Maehara.

Earlier this week, Maehara abruptly floated his Haneda plan, immediately drawing flak from Chiba and municipalities in the prefecture with a stake in Narita. Since then, Maehara has apparently been trying to contain the controversy he started.

“The minister agreed,” Morita said, adding he was told the plan does not mean moving flights from Narita.

Maehara nevertheless stressed that it is inevitable that Haneda will handle more international flights while Narita continues serving as the main global gateway.

There is no hub airport for international flights in Japan, and demand for such a hub is expected to grow, Maehara said.

He cited a recent forecast by a think tank that says the number of takeoffs and landings in the Tokyo area will reach 940,000 by 2030.

Maehara pointed out that the combined annual takeoffs and landings at the two airports will fall short, at 710,000, even after Haneda’s fourth runway opens next year.

“As we plan to draw more foreign visitors, we need to work out how Haneda and Narita can accommodate international flights in an integrated manner,” he said.

An hour’s train ride from central Tokyo, non-24-hour Narita, which began operations with just one runway in the 1970s, has a long history of local opposition to not only its creation but especially any attempts to expand, although it now has two runways, whereas Haneda, 15 minutes by train, has continued to grow.