Haneda fails to solve Japan air travel woes
By Christopher Johnson
TOKYO - The sparkling new international terminal at Tokyo's Haneda airport,
with its futuristic design and market atmosphere akin to the Japanese capital's
shopping districts, will at least give visitors a more cheerful welcome to the
Yet once the fanfare subsides, many travelers will find that Japan is still not
doing enough to bring down prices or improve connections between airports.
On October 31, Haneda will begin handling regular international flights for the
first time in 32 years, using a new fourth runway in Tokyo Bay to connect it
with 17 foreign airports by February next year. That is still far fewer than
Narita airport's network of 97 foreign cities in 43 countries.
The government, which mixes land, infrastructure, transport and
tourism into one ministry, hopes the "dual hub" strategy will increase foreign
arrivals by 2.2 million a year and encourage another 3.9 million Japanese to
travel abroad. The ministry figures this could help tackle deflation and pad
growth statistics by adding 1 trillion yen (US$12.2 billion) per year in
spending on domestic travel, hotels and dining.
"Haneda will mark its first step toward becoming a 24-hour international hub,"
said Transport Minister Sumio Mabuchi during the terminal's official opening
last weekend. "It's important to operate Narita and Haneda in a unified way to
promote the two airports as one international hub."
The problem is that the "dual hubs" of Haneda and Narita are at least 90
minutes apart on trains often crammed with tired or drunk workers commuting
between Yokohama, Tokyo and Chiba. Due to no-fly zones over US air and naval
bases on Tokyo's western flanks, the skies east of downtown Tokyo will also be
crowded with planes from both airports using a narrow air corridor over Tokyo
Bay and Chiba prefecture.
Using Haneda will save many travelers an hour of ground transport - it might
take 90 minutes in total time by bus and train from the homes of most travelers
in western Tokyo or Yokohama, which Haneda is meant to serve, compared with a
two- or three-hour journey to Narita through the rice paddies of Chiba. But at
a time of wage decreases and rising unemployment, they will wonder it's worth
spending an extra 10,000 yen for the pleasure of the time saved.
And while Haneda is only 20 to 30 minutes by train from the ticket gates at
Shinagawa and Hamamatsucho train stations in central Tokyo, business people in
the Marunouchi office district hoping to jump on a flight to New York or London
will find they can't fly in and out of Haneda until between 10pm and 7am,
giving them awkward arrival and departure times out of Europe and North
An American Airlines flight from Haneda, for example, will leave the airport at 6.40am, which means waking up in Tokyo at 3am and taking an expensive taxi to reach check-in, then landing at JFK in New York at 5.15am local time the same day.
While Asia-bound flights are allowed between 6am and 11pm, passengers taking
the latest flights from Haneda to Bangkok or Singapore will arrive too early to
check into hotels and perhaps too tired to function at meetings or conferences.
Narita, meanwhile, will remain closed for the night due to protests from locals
and environmentalists about noise.
As many passengers noted at the airport this week, Haneda will at least be
convenient for a quick weekend vacation to Hawaii, with three flights after
10.30pm. The Japan Travel Bureau says flights to Honolulu are almost full until
Japan should naturally be a gateway to Asia for flights from North America, but
exorbitant landing fees at Haneda and Narita - sometimes 10 times higher than
in other countries - will continue to push up airfares to Japan, and entice
travelers to use award-winning airports in South Korea, Hong Kong and
Landing a Boeing 747 at Narita costs 770,000 yen, compared with 70,000 yen at
London's Heathrow, say Japanese media reports. A Boeing 767 with 150 passengers
landing at Haneda will cost about 3,000 yen per passenger, two-and-a-half times
the 1,200 yen at Changi in Singapore, according to International Air Transport
Association data. The same plane landing at Incheon, outside Seoul, costs a
mere 335 yen per passenger, helping to make it a de facto hub for about 30
regional airports in Japan.
Japan's landing fees could also cripple the attempts of low-budget carriers -
which carry about 40% of all flyers in Europe and North America, and 20% in
Asia - to get off the ground in Japan.
Following in the footsteps of Australia's Jetstar Airways, South Korea's Jeju
Air and China's Spring Airlines, Malaysia's AirAsia X got essentially free
advertising on local TV newscasts by trumpeting "a limited number" of 5,000-yen
one-way fares from Haneda to Kuala Lumpur beginning in December.
At a gala opening, chief executive officer Azran Osman-Rani told Japanese media
that his company could save 20,000 to 30,000 yen per person. However, one-way
fares posted on the airline's website are 28,000 and 51,000 yen for December
All Nippon Airways is promising to launch its own budget carrier next year. Yet
instead of slashing fares now to attract new customers to Haneda, ANA says it
will charge between 5,000 and 12,000 yen more for flights to Beijing, Shanghai,
Bangkok, Singapore, Honolulu and Los Angeles, because of higher demand for
seats from people living or working in Yokohama, or western and central Tokyo.
The Transport Ministry's decision this week to allow ANA and Japan Airlines to
cooperate more closely with American, United and Continental Airlines is
unlikely to lead to cheaper fares, despite Japan Airlines president Masaru
Onishi's statement that "we are intent on keeping the marketplace competitive".
Meanwhile, for all the attention it is grabbing, Haneda is not the only airport
meant to be a "hub". About 300 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, Kansai Airport,
which operates around the clock, is also supposed to be a gateway for cargo and
human traffic through the Orient. And Narita's president, Kosaburo Morinaka,
recently emphasized that Narita, in case anyone forgot, is still the nation's
main international airport.
"Narita is Haneda's big brother," he told a press conference. "We don't lose to
Tokyo-based journalist Christopher Johnson (www.globalite.posterous.com)
is author of Siamese Dreams and an upcoming novel set in Japan.
The reference above to the American Airlines service scheduled to leave Haneda at 6:40am for New York's John F Kennedy International Airport corrects an earlier version that gave the incorrect landing time.