A bigger role for Haneda airport

The number of arrival and departure slots for international flights at Haneda airport in Tokyo will likely increase from the current 40 per day to 80 per day in and after late March 2014. JAL (Japan Airlines) and ANA (All Nippon Airways) are at odds with each other over the distribution of increased flight slots. But both the airlines and the transport ministry should make joint efforts to enable Haneda airport to better function as a hub in the Tokyo area. This is especially important because more and more tourists from abroad are likely to visit Tokyo and other parts of Japan in the wake of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to let Tokyo host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

For a long time Narita airport served as a hub for international flights and Haneda airport as a hub for domestic flights. The division of roles started to change in 2010 when the fourth runway was completed at Haneda airport, leading to launch of regular international flights to and from Haneda. But the international flights have been limited to short flights connecting Haneda with other Asian cities, except for flights late at night and early in the morning.

In late March 2014, nearly 40 slots per day will be added to the current slots for international flights from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., with 20 of them allotted to Japanese airlines. The transport ministry decided in early October to give JAL five slots and ANA 11 slots. Specifically, JAL and ANA will have one slot each for flights to Britain, France, China, Singapore and Thailand, and ANA alone will have one slot each for flights to Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Canada, and two slots for flights to Germany.

Behind the favorable treatment of ANA was an opinion that to give the same treatment to JAL and ANA would be unfair because JAL, which went under in 2010, quickly improved its business performance in a short period of time thanks to massive injection of public money into it and a corporate tax exemption. In the half-year period to September 2013, JAL garnered operating profits of ¥95.8 billion and net profits of ¥81.9 billion, and ANA Holding, ¥43.3 billion and ¥20 billion, respectively.

The transport ministry has reportedly given preferential treatment to ANA in allotting the slots so that ANA will gain higher profits than JAL from its flight operations to and from Haneda. One flight spot at Haneda airport is estimated to increase sales by about ¥10 billion and profit by about ¥1 billion a year. One lesson from the allotment of slots this time is that the transport ministry must increase transparency of its aviation policy.

As part of its restructuring efforts, JAL abolished about 40 domestic flight routes. It plans to revive about 10 of them in and after fiscal 2014. There are strong calls from the countryside for improving connection between local airports and Haneda. Serious efforts in this direction should be made to have Japanese local airports better connected with overseas cities via Haneda.