The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, which is seeing a resurgence as the city pursues ambitious business and tourism goals, is adding 24 slots to boost capacity ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. US airlines stand to ben­efit greatly from the move as half the slots will be awarded to them. The decision follows an agreement in January between the Japanese government and the US military over access to airspace above the capital.

The airspace is managed by Yokota Air Base in Fussa, in western Tokyo. The facility, which is an important partner to the Japan Self-Defense Forces, serves as the host base for the headquarters of the United States Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force. It is also home to the 374th Airlift Wing, which provides tactical airlift, medical evacuation, and dis­tinguished visitor airlift for the western Pacific.

The importance of Yokota to regional defense means that the United States and Japan had to agree on a solution that enhanced Haneda’s utility without disrupting military operations. But the importance of opening up a more effi­cient flight path as part of Tokyo’s business and tourism develop­ment was undeniable, and the Japanese government appears to have sweetened the deal by offering half of the 24 added slots to US carriers.

While reportedly reluctant to give up control—even for limited periods—of the airspace around the capital, the United States ultimately agreed to allow flights to pass through at certain times of day, with authority being handed over to Japanese air traffic control.

The January 28 announcement by Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami was a shot in the arm for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pursuit of 40 million visitors per year by 2020.

The 24 flights added through the 12 new slot pairs will increase the number of annual daytime international flights from 60,000 to 99,000—about 50 more each day—and will connect more cities in the United States directly with Tokyo. Haneda currently offers direct flights to seven US destinations: Chicago, New York, Honolulu, Kona, Los Angeles, Minneapolis,  and San Francisco.

The increased access will also strengthen efforts to position Tokyo as a global business hub. As has been shown by the annual Global Power City Index (GPCI), published by the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategies, Tokyo is in a battle with London, New York, and Paris for top influence in this age of rapid globalization. A key to victory is improved accessibility, and this is one reason for the shift in recent years from Narita International Airport, on the outskirts of the metropolis, to Haneda, near the heart of the business districts.

“Haneda is the preferred gateway for business travelers due to its proximity to downtown Tokyo, and the ease and choice of transportation. It also offers great connectivity to other domestic cities,” Alison Espley, managing director Japan and Pacific Sales at United Airlines told The ACCJ Journal. Espley is vice-chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Transportation and Logistics Committee. 

Steve Dewire, general manager of the Grand Hyatt Tokyo and co-chair of the ACCJ Tourism Industry Committee, sees opportunity in the change. “I believe this will be a very positive lift to both business and tourism travel due to the growing positive reputation and convenience of Haneda,” he said. “Our business guests are fully aware of Haneda as an option, and the increase of routes and times will be very positively received.”

Three of the largest US carriers—American Airlines, Inc., Delta Air Lines, Inc., and United Airlines, Inc.—have filed applications with the US Department of Transportation for permission to add routes between Haneda and a range of US cities.

Delta is looking to add service between Haneda and five US airports:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International
  • Detroit Metro
  • Portland International
  • Seattle-Tacoma International
  • Daniel K. Inouye International in Honolulu

Twice-daily service is planned for the Honolulu route, while the addition of Atlanta, Detroit, Portland, and Seattle-Tacoma would be the first direct service between Haneda and these major US cities.

“Delta, with 12 daily flights to and from the United States, is not much smaller than United,” explained Masaru Morimoto, Delta Air Lines regional director for Japan and chair of the ACCJ Transportation and Logistics Committee. “Narita has been functioning as a hub for Southeast Asia, South Korea, and China for many years. With much more development of the direct flights to and from the United States to China and South Korea, the flights to and from Haneda need to cater much more towards local Japan–US customer needs. This is why Haneda will better serve our corporate customers.”

United is also looking to claim six of the 12 available slots with service between Haneda and six US airports:

  • Chicago O’Hare International
  • Newark Liberty International
  • Washington Dulles International
  • Los Angeles International
  • Houston George Bush Intercontinental
  • A.B. Won Pat International on Guam

The Guam, Los Angeles, and Newark routes would be an additional flight to Japan from those hubs and add Haneda as an alternative to the current destination of Narita in Chiba Prefecture. United’s existing flights from Chicago, Houston, and Washington, DC, would be shifted from Narita to Haneda.

American Airlines, which has been conducting joint business with Japan Airlines since April 2011, would like to add to its existing service between Haneda and three US airports:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth International
  • Los Angeles International
  • McCarran International in Las Vegas

“Tokyo is an important hub for our Pacific Joint Business with Japan Airlines. Enhanced service at Haneda would give our customers better access to downtown Tokyo and open up JAL’s domestic network with flights to destinations like Osaka, Sapporo, and Fukuoka.” said American Airlines President Robert Isom in a company statement.

American’s proposed summer 2020 schedule includes two daily flights from Dallas/Fort Worth and one each from Las Vegas and Los Angeles. One of the world’s most popular and exciting vacation destinations, Las Vegas is also one of the most underserved cities for Japanese passengers.

Additionally, Hawaiian Airlines has applied for three slots to serve a single route: Haneda–Honolulu.

If you are keeping track, that’s 19 routes being proposed by the four carriers, but just 12 slots are available. 

Allocation will be up to the US Department of Transportation (DOT), and there are five milestones in the application review and decision process:

  • February 14: Petitions for Reconsideration
  • February 19: Answers to Petitions
  • February 21: Applications
  • February 28: Answers
  • March 7: Replies

The DOT has not announced a date for its final decision.

As for what criteria will determine who wins, Espley said, “The DOT will make its decision based on which proposed routes will serve the greatest public benefit and have the strongest community support.”

United’s six proposed routes, she said, “would provide more and better options for US consumers by offering seamless access to Tokyo via nonstop flights from key business, government, and cultural centers across the United States in cities where Tokyo flight demand is among the greatest.”

“Japan is already a hugely popular destination, and the Japanese government anticipates strong demand for travel to the Games—so the introduction of additional flights prior to the events is important,” said Espley. “The 2020 Olympics give Japan the opportunity to showcase itself to the world as an important business and leisure destination. This event is particularly important to United, given we are the largest US carrier operating to and from Japan. We will continue our sponsorship and support of the Olympic Games in 2020.”

Being able to travel to Haneda from more cities in the US will enhance the tourism experience and make it easier for fans to attend the world’s biggest sporting event. As Dewire said in closing: “Narita is an excellent airport with a strong reputation and history, but the convenience of Haneda will be an important addition for tourists and those attending the Games when planning their itineraries. Given the general time it takes to travel to Japan, this will be a very positive route to book, with improved access to their accommodations and more manageable schedules.”

There is also little doubt that this improved access will boost Tokyo’s business prospects as well, and could move the needle in a future edition of the GPCI.

While the date of the DOT’s announcement is not yet known, flights are expected to begin on or after March 29, 2020, just in time for the start of Japan’s summer flying season and the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
The 24 flights added through the 12 new slot pairs will increase the number of annual daytime international flights from 60,000 to 99,000