Spring Air freezes Japan expansion plans over Senkakus turmoil

Kyodo

Spring Airlines, a low-cost carrier based in Shanghai, is freezing plans to expand service to other cities in Japan, Chairman Wang Zhenghua said.

The decision comes amid political tensions between the two countries that have sharply reduced Chinese tourism to Japan.

In a recent interview, Wang said Spring plans to begin additional flights to other Asian destinations instead.

Spring operates regular flights from Shanghai to Ibaraki, Takamatsu and Saga airports.

The carrier, which has played a big role in boosting Chinese sightseeing tours to Japan, had planned to expand into Hokkaido, Chubu, Kansai and southern Kyushu.

Wang did not mention any specific Japanese airport in discussing the freeze, but officials of Shin-Chitose, Obihiro and Kushiro airports in Hokkaido, Shizuoka airport in the Chubu region, which serves as a gateway to the popular Mount Fuji tours, and Miyazaki airport in Kyushu said they have been in contact with Spring.

In October, Kansai International Airport announced that Spring would inaugurate a service there by March, but that plan has been scrapped.

So far, Spring has based its Japanese operations at local airports with comparatively cheap usage fees. It also organizes inexpensive sightseeing tours through its own tour company.

Since the occupancy ratios for Spring’s flights to Ibaraki, Takamatsu and Saga routinely top 80 percent, other airports have been trying to get a piece of the action. But that was before ties between Japan and China plunged over the Senkakus dispute, which erupted after the Japanese government purchased three of the five islets from their private Japanese owner last September, effectively nationalizing the chain.

Wang said the sovereignty dispute has triggered a sharp fall in Chinese group tours to Japan and that occupancy ratios on the Shanghai-Takamatsu and Shanghai-Saga routes fell below 50 percent.

He said Spring will switch its air route expansion plans to other Asian destinations, including South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore, to explore potential markets.

Wang said Spring plans to retain the three Japanese routes it operates but might review the expansion freeze if the two countries mend diplomatic ties and Chinese group tours pick up again.