Narita ‘Nightmare’ Ends as U.S. Flights Return to Central Tokyo

Tokyo Downtown Airport Adds U.S. Flights; Challenges Singapo
Members of the media walk near a departure board at the entrance to the new international terminal building of Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

For the first time in 32 years, Tokyo banker Edwin Merner can fly to San Francisco without having to travel more than an hour just to catch his plane.

Haneda Airport, 13 minutes by train from Merner’s office in Tokyo’s center, is opening a $1.3 billion international terminal and starting flights to the U.S. and Europe this month. The expansion provides an alternative for the millions of business travelers and tourists making the 70 kilometer (40 mile) journey to and from Narita International Airport each year.

“If I go to Korea, it takes as long to get to Narita as from Narita to Seoul,” said Merner, president of Tokyo-based Atlantis Investment Research Corp. “Going to Haneda is very convenient. People will love it.”

Tokyo is boosting air traffic as it faces challenges from Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai as regional financial hubs. Combined expansions at Haneda, Asia’s second-busiest airport after Beijing, and Narita will add about 1 trillion yen ($12 billion) to Japan’s economy next fiscal year by boosting tourism, air cargo and real estate prices, the government said.

Japan Airlines Corp., All Nippon Airways Co., American Airlines and British Airways Plc are adding flights from Haneda to New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Singapore.

“The advent of multiple new flights flying in and out of Haneda is being viewed most favorably by senior financial professionals,” said John McCrohon, a director of financial services at recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Japan K.K. The expansion will promote Tokyo as a “central business hub.”

Haneda, Japan’s busiest airport with 62 million passengers last year, will add 40,000 overseas take-off and landing slots along with the new 110 billion yen, five-story terminal. The building has more than 100 restaurants and shops, including a Hello Kitty outlet and a replica of an Edo-era street.

New Flights

All Nippon is adding five international destinations a week from Haneda to cities including Los Angeles, Honolulu and Singapore, while Japan Airlines will add flights to six overseas cities, including Paris and San Francisco. The two airlines already fly to Hong Kong, China and South Korea from the airport, after Haneda reintroduced short-haul overseas flights in 2002, when Japan and South Korea co-hosted soccer’s World Cup. Merner, who flies overseas four or five times a year, said he already uses Haneda for trips to Seoul and Hong Kong.

“We’re competing on time and we have a big advantage,” said Mutsuo Egashira, a senior vice president at Tokyo International Air Terminal Corp., manager of the new terminal. “Tourism will have a significant impact on the economy.”

Delta Air Lines Inc. will offer flights from the new terminal to Los Angeles and Detroit, American will link to New York, Hawaiian Airlines Inc. will fly to Honolulu and British Airways to London.

Haneda Premium

Some airlines said they will charge a premium for flights from Haneda, compared with Narita. All Nippon Air aims to get higher fares from the downtown airport, charging about 10,000 yen more for some discount tickets. Japan Airlines said tickets to Seoul’s Incheon and Honolulu may be more expensive.

“Haneda constitutes a real product benefit,” said Mark Dunkerley, chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines. “People are going to be able to fly to their favorite destination from a more convenient airport.”

The expansion at Haneda includes a fourth runway that will boost take-off and landing slots to 371,000 annually, according to the transport ministry. Capacity may rise to 447,000 a year by fiscal 2013 if the airport shows its traffic control system can handle the increase, the ministry said. Narita increased capacity 10 percent to 220,000 slots earlier this year and plans to add another 80,000 slots by fiscal 2014.

Trillion Yen Boost

“The development and opening up of Haneda is good news for Tokyo and the Japanese economy,” said Laurie Price, director of aviation strategy at Mott MacDonald Group Ltd. Air traffic constraints “have been bad for Japanese trade and tourism,” he said.

International passengers at Haneda will probably increase to about 7 million in the first 12 months of operations, compared with about 2.5 million a year now, said Egashira.

Narita will increase passenger numbers to 34 million next fiscal year from an estimated 33 million this year, according to Narita International Airport Corp.

‘At Capacity’

“Japan has been completely at capacity,” said Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association, a Montreal-based trade group.

Haneda’s new flights include a thrice-weekly service to Kuala Lumpur by low-cost carrier AirAsia X Sdn, starting in December.

“If we could get a daily flight to Haneda, that would be fantastic,” Azran Osman Rani, chief executive officer of AirAsia X, the long-haul unit of AirAsia Bhd., told reporters in Tokyo last month.

Tourists coming to Japan will climb to 15 million by 2013, from 6.8 million last year, should the government meet its estimates. About 15 million Japanese traveled overseas last year.

“Haneda will be able to attract a greater amount of demand from airlines,” Yasuhiro Matsumoto, an analyst in Tokyo at Shinsei Securities Co. “It will give a boost to the Tokyo metropolitan area.”

Rail links will deliver passengers to Haneda’s new terminal in 13 minutes from either the city’s main loop line or from the bullet train stop at Shinagawa station when it opens next week. Beijing airport links to the city by fast train in 16 minutes. Fliers to Hong Kong, which opened a new airport in 1998, can take a train downtown in 24 minutes. The express train to Narita takes an hour.

“Getting to Narita is a nightmare,” said Chieko Yamane, 48, a Tokyo office worker, who lives in Kanagawa prefecture, the other side of Tokyo, and jets abroad three or four times a year. “Haneda is much better, so easy and simple, especially when I bring scuba gear. I can hardly wait.”