Haneda Airport‘s 40 additional landing slots for international flights are set to give a boost to Japan’s tourism wave, which helped to push foreign visitor arrivals past a record 10 million last year.

The new landing slots starting today will not only allow Haneda to handle more flights, but will also — for the first time — see long-haul international flights arriving in the day instead of only at night. Prior to that, Haneda had handled mostly domestic flights, apart from a few chartered international flights to nearby destinations such as Seoul.

Travellers to Tokyo have long preferred Haneda over Narita Airport because it is much closer to central Tokyo. It takes about an hour by airport shuttle bus to get to a central Tokyo hotel compared with Narita’s two hours or more, depending on traffic conditions.

But when international flights via Haneda were approved in 2008, the transport ministry stipulated that such flights could take place only between 11pm and 7am. This was done as Narita is closed from 11pm to 6am.

Travellers from Singapore, for instance, were thus forced to choose between taking a red-eye flight to Haneda, arriving at 5am, and taking a flight to Narita that arrives in the afternoon but requires up to three hours’ travelling to get to their hotel due to peak-hour traffic.

Business consultant Teng Theng Dar, 62, is a frequent visitor to Japan who is looking forward to taking the new daytime flights to Haneda available on Singapore Airlines and the two major Japanese carriers, All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL).

“With the Haneda daytime flights, travel time is shorter, hotel check-in is not an issue, and I will even have time for a pre-meeting dinner,” he said.

There will be an increase from 50 to about 90 international flights a day at Haneda.

Last year, Haneda handled 1.29 million overseas travellers. The government is targeting 20 million visitors a year by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

After last year’s record 10.36 million foreign visitors, the momentum is continuing. In the first two months of this year, 1.82 million foreigners visited Japan, a 30 per cent increase over the same period last year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organisation.

Industry experts estimate each new landing slot at Haneda to be worth US$20 million a year in operating profit.

ANA, which got 11 of the coveted landing slots at Haneda over JAL’s five, said sales of its new flights from Haneda to Hanoi and Vancouver are doing well, and close to the target load factor of 70 per cent.

The new arrangement is also expected to strengthen Haneda’s position as a hub for domestic travellers headed overseas from local airports. Instead of enduring another hour’s journey from Haneda to Narita, close to 30 per cent of such travellers have been choosing to transit via South Korea’s Incheon Airport or China’s Shanghai Airport, according to airlines’ data.

“We expect more people from domestic local destinations to connect via Haneda, and also expect the number of people visiting Japan to increase,” ANA spokesman Maho Ito told The Sunday Times.

To cater to the expected increase in demand, ANA last Thursday announced aircraft orders worth 1.7 trillion yen (US$16 billion), the largest orders by the airline to date, to be delivered over 11 years from 2016. ___

Tags: hnd, japan, tokyo
Photo Credit: Haneda Airport in Tokyo. gracias! / Flickr