Just six months after Haneda airport in Tokyo resumed full-fledged international operations, its ambition to attain a status as a global hub that rivals other major airports in Asia has waned as overseas travel to and from Japan plunged after the March 11 earthquake.
The number of people going on overseas trips via Haneda probably has sunk 20 to 30 percent compared with the prequake level although accurate data are still not available, says the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
“We were gunning for a major break in the airport business as more airlines were opening new flight routes (through Haneda) after the airport expanded international operations,” a senior ministry official said, lamenting missed opportunities.
After its new international terminal opened Oct. 21, Haneda became popular among travelers due to its proximity to central Tokyo. But demand for lucrative business-class services has sharply contracted as a result of the magnitude 9.0 temblor and the ongoing crisis at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, an airport official said.
“It is certain that foreign visitors to Japan will decrease sharply this year,” said an official with a tourism industry body.
Delta Air Lines suspended its flights linking Haneda with Los Angeles and Detroit in late March. So did American Airlines, halting its service between Haneda and New York on April 8.
American says it will resume operations on April 28 and Delta is going to reopen the suspended routes in June.
Travel agencies say, however, they are not sure whether the U.S. airlines will keep their word because those operations were said to have been struggling due to poor demand even before the quake and tsunami.
British Airways decided not to operate flights between Haneda and London from April 3 through May 30. Among Asian air carriers, Singapore Airlines has cut its two daily round-trip flights to one between Haneda and the Southeast Asian city-state. The second flight will be reinstated on May 8, it said.
About a month before the quake, Air Canada indefinitely put on hold its plan to start service between Haneda and Vancouver, British Columbia, because estimated demand fell short of earlier projections.
In an effort to draw back tourists from abroad who have stopped traveling to Japan out of radiation fears, the Japan National Tourism Organization set up websites in English, Chinese and Korean to provide information such as radiation levels in Japan mainly to foreign governments and airlines.
The temblor-tsunami and nuclear disaster aside, Haneda airport has been faced with another major challenge in expanding its international operations.
Landing and takeoff slots allotted to flights from and to the United States and Europe are limited to midnight and early morning hours. Such a constraint has been posing major inconvenience to airport users as no railway and bus transportation is available from late at night to early morning.
Daytime slots will become available for U.S. and European flights from April 2013 at the earliest, the transport ministry said.
“Haneda airport could lose out in global competition if it remains complacent about its prime location and fails to offer convenient landing slots to airlines,” said an executive with a major foreign air carrier.
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