Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports require government support and long-term strategic planning in order to remain competitive against other regional hubs, says a senior executive of All Nippon Airways.
This is because Seoul's Incheon airport, Beijing Capital International Airport, Shanghai's Pudong and Hongqiao airports, and Taiwan's Taoyuan and Songshan airports have all been developed and received significant investment in recent years, says Shuichi Fujimura, ANA's senior vice-president for marketing and planning.
He was responding to a question on competition among regional hubs at the Aviation 2020 Finance Forum organised by Flightglobal's data and advisory unit Ascend.
While Tokyo's airports have only invested in new facilities in the last few years or so, allowing them to somewhat catch up, other hubs have already confirmed plans for their expansions in the coming years, he adds.
"Look at these other airports. They have built new big terminals and facilities that are better than those at Narita and Haneda, and they are already looking ahead while we are stuck," he says. "We still have a disadvantage versus Incheon, Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei."
The challenges facing Narita include long-delayed plans for a third runway and a night curfew that limits slots. A new low-cost terminal will cater to the budget carriers' growth, but there are worries that Narita may not be big enough to cope with the growth.
Haneda opened up for scheduled international traffic last year with a new terminal, but slots are already severely restricted at an airport that is closer to the Tokyo metropolitan area than Narita.
The Japanese government has said that it plans to increase the number of slots available in Tokyo by around 30%, but it has not spelt out how it plans to do this. This capacity crunch has allowed Incheon and the Chinese airports to grow far more rapidly over the last few years and position themselves as domestic, regional and even Asian hubs.
Japan has signed several open skies agreements that will take effect in 2013 and Fujimura says that long-term demand and growth has to be considered in the planning.
"Japan needs to look closely at the demand, not for this year or next year but for the next 20 years and what needs to be done to keep it competitive," he adds.