Friday, September 27, 2013
EDITORIAL: No Time To Lose In Improving Tokyo's Airports
TOKYO (Nikkei)--A panel of advisers to the transport minister has begun deliberations on how to improve the airports in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
Although the problem of a shortage of takeoff and landing slots at airports in the Tokyo area has diminished somewhat thanks to efforts to upgrade the facilities in recent years, it has yet to be fully resolved.
Given the huge roles they play in supporting tourism and trade, Haneda airport in Tokyo and Narita airport in neighboring Chiba Prefecture are core infrastructure helping underpin economic activity in Japan, making it imperative that they be steadily improved.
The completion of the fourth runway at Haneda and the reinforcement of facilities at Narita will soon increase the combined number of slots by 40% to 750,000 per year. Currently, no further increases are planned.
Not Big Enough
But it is clear that the airports still cannot fully meet demand, as evidenced by the tug of war between All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. (9201) over the allocation of slots for new international flight services at Haneda.
At Narita, foreign airlines are continuously being forced to ditch plans to launch new services or operate more flights due to the lack of available slots during hours they prefer.
This capacity crunch also helps explain why Japan was so slow to introduce low-cost carriers compared with the U.S., Europe and other Asian economies.
Having sufficient airport capacity is a prerequisite for promoting competition between airlines and enhancing services for travelers. To understand this, one need only see how rapid improvements at South Korea's Incheon International Airport have boosted the number of international routes it handles past that of Narita.
If Japan does nothing to change the situation, its dream of being the top air-travel hub in Northeast Asia may come crashing down, just as it did with maritime ports.
Unlike roads and other infrastructure exclusively for domestic use, airports, which serve as gateways to the world, can still attract more business even while the population declines. And with Tokyo set to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, there is all the more reason to upgrade the airports serving the capital.
There are ways to increase the number of slots without drastically overhauling existing facilities. Another runway can be built off Haneda, for example, and changes can be made to aviation management policy, such as removing the ban on flights over Tokyo.
Building an additional runway at Haneda would of course require a lot of money, but private-sector funds could be used to help cover the expenses. Efforts should be made to minimize construction costs, however, because ballooning expenses could push up landing fees and thus weaken the airport's international competitiveness.
Also, lifting the ban on flights over Tokyo may cause new noise problems, so agreements would have to be worked out with local governments.
The hurdles presented by these and other approaches are high and will take a lot of time to clear. That is why the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism should immediately start crafting concrete plans while taking into account the views of airlines and others with stakes in this very important issue.
(The Nikkei, Sept. 27 morning edition)