To counter cutthroat competition from hub airports elsewhere in Asia, Haneda airport will expand its international flight capacity Sunday when it takes the wraps off a more spacious terminal.

The expansion is a serious move by Haneda, situated as it is in the heart of Tokyo. The terminal expansion is expected to spark competition with other Japanese airports, especially Narita International, and goad them into upgrading their services, experts say.

“I think Haneda’s expansion this time has a very significant meaning,” said Hajime Tozaki, a professor at the Graduate School of Commerce at Waseda University.

Starting Sunday, Haneda will be able to handle more daytime flights to Europe and North America.

And slots for international flights will climb to 90,000 a year from the current 60,000.

The new daytime routes to Europe and North America include London, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt and Toronto. Access to Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore will also be improved.

The 159,000-sq.-meter international terminal is expanding to 236,000 sq. meters. The number of boarding gates where travelers can get on the plane immediately will rise to 18 from 10, and 48 new check-in counters will bring the total to 144.

The bigger terminal will also have new restaurants, shops and a prayer room. Japan’s first transit hotel will also open, providing accommodations for travelers without forcing them to officially enter the country.

Because the airport had long been limited to domestic flights, mainly due to limited space in the center of the capital and a lack of technological innovation in building floating runways, Narita over in adjacent Chiba Prefecture has long been the nation’s main international flight hub.

But the administrations led by the Democratic Party of Japan changed that in 2009 by deciding it was crucial to turn Haneda into an international hub to survive competition from foreign airports.

After a hiatus of 32 years, Haneda resumed scheduled international flights in 2010.

But the flights to Europe and North America were limited to night time so the daytime flights could be devoted to services in Asia, and to avoid allegations of unfair competition with Narita.

“Haneda will become more internationalized with the increasing number of these flights in the daytime … late-night flights are not very convenient after all,” said Tozaki, an expert on aviation policy.

Because of the lack of daytime flights to Europe and North America, Haneda’s role as a transit airport for Japanese travelers residing outside Tokyo suffered.

For instance, people in Okayama Prefecture heading to Paris on All Nippon Airways had to first fly to Incheon International Airport in South Korea, or to Haneda before taking a long bus or train ride to Narita, to board the international flight that will take them to France.

But with ANA commencing direct Haneda-Paris flights next week, these travelers will have a much more convenient option.

“Haneda has great domestic flight networks, so not only people living around Tokyo, but also more people in other regions will be able to go overseas through Haneda,” said Tozaki.

Haneda’s improvements can have a positive impact on other domestic airports, especially Narita, Japan’s main international gateway, said Tozaki.

Narita will continue to be a crucial international airport as the nation looks to push the envelope on tourism, he said.

Tokyo will be hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, and the government is pushing hard to lure 20 million international visitors a year.

Both Haneda and Narita will play vital roles in handling this influx, Tozaki said.

“Our policy is to take advantage of features of the two airports to maximize aviation functions around the Tokyo metropolitan area,” said Yuki Ebihara, an official at the transport ministry. “Narita has better international networks than Haneda and its domestic networks are improving . . . and it’s also building a terminal for budget carriers. So, Narita can provide a variety of flights to customers.”

Ebihara said the new international flights at Haneda will mainly benefit business travelers. Haneda’s advantages as an international airport are significant, based mainly on its convenient location only 20 to 30 minutes from central Tokyo.

Last year, the airport handled a record 68.74 million passengers, according to the transport ministry, and is on course to become the world’s third-busiest airport with the terminal expansion.

In 2012, the world’s four busiest airports were Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, Beijing Capital International Airport, London’s Heathrow and Haneda.

Foreign carriers will launch more flights at Haneda on Sunday.

“Because Haneda is close to the center of Tokyo, they really want (more flights),” Ebihara said.

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