Though its official name is Tokyo International,
Haneda Airport has been used almost exclusively for
domestic operations since Narita Airport opened in the
late 1970's. According to reports, however, Japanese
Transport minister Seiji Maehara is hoping to turn back
the tide. (Photo credit: kamijaro.co.jp)
Citing the increasing tendency of many Japanese travelers to opt for international travel out of Seoul's Incheon Airport rather than one of Japan's own, Japanese Transport Seiji Maehara is calling for a reversal of the government's longstanding policy separating Tokyo's domestic and international operations between Haneda and Narita airports, respectively. It is believed that the large distance between the two airports discourages individuals from Japan's provincial regions, who must land at Haneda and make the long journey to Narita in order to connect, from using the Tokyo airport system, leading to an unnecessary decrease in market share and operating profits for Japanese carriers, as well as prestige for Japan, which, according to Maehara, "lacks a hub airport," due to the traffic split between Narita and Haneda.
According to reports, Maehara was initially approached by Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto about the prospect of Kansai International Airport, one of three airports serving the Osaka region, becoming a hub airport. "After building a solid hub in [Tokyo], we would like to consider what to do about the three airports of Kansai, Itami and Kobe that serve the [Osaka Region]," the Transport minister said.
Though it is not officially known which Tokyo airport--or if both--would serve as the prospective "hub" of Japan, the odds are largely stacked in favor of Haneda, an ironic turn of events to many in the aviation community, as well as ordinary Japanese citizens, who remember the controversy surrounding Narita's construction--which entailed, among other things, the 1971 forcible expropriation of thousands of residents from land needed for the airport--as well as both private and public sector campaigns to encourage the exclusive use of the then-new airport for international operations. Because of Haneda's closer proximity (8.7 vs. 35.7 mi) to Tokyo's city center, it is assumed that most foreign carriers--including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, both of whom operate small connection hubs at Narita--would want to move their bases entirely to Haneda. It is also logical that most Japanese carriers, including JAL and ANA, would move sizeable portions of their international operations to Haneda for increased leverage of their extensive domestic networks. Due to the greater Tokyo region's massive population, however, which currently stands at about 35 million, it is unlikely that the current international gateway to Japan would be left out in the cold entirely.