Japan's two main airlines are gearing up for the opening of the Central Japan international airport (Centrair) which they expect will provide greater opportunities for international expansion in a market where growth has been constrained for years.

The new airport, south of Nagoya, is due to become operational on 17 February, when it will replace the city's Komaki facility as the main airport for the central region of Japan. Both All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) have outlined plans to increase international and domestic operations from Nagoya after Centrair opens, and they say the new airport will be a key element of their network expansion plans.

Airport officials say that several foreign airlines have expressed interest in launching new services to Nagoya, although they are not yet able to give details. FedEx Express, however, has announced plans to serve Centrair, while Continental Micronesia will start Honolulu-Nagoya services in December, two months before the new airport opens.

ANA and JAL say Centrair will provide opportunities for expansion, particularly as Tokyo's preferred Narita international airport remains congested. Osaka's Kansai international airport was built to ease the burden on Narita, but has not been popular.

At Tokyo's Haneda, which is mainly a domestic facility, planning is under way for a fourth runway that will allow it to be opened up to more international services, but it will not be ready until the 2009-10 fiscal year.

The new Nagoya airport, commonly called Chubu because of the region in which it is located, is situated between Narita and Kansai airports, and its backers are promising landing charges below those of these two airports. The new airport is 40%-owned by Japan's central government, 10% by local governments and 50% by private companies and banks.

One of Centrair's key selling points is it will be the first major airport in Japan that will allow for easy transfers between international and domestic flights. "There really are no airports in Japan at the moment where you can have a decent international-domestic connection," says ANA chief executive Yoji Ohashi. "Until 2009 Haneda is going to remain a largely domestic airport, Narita is a largely international airport, Osaka's Itami is domestic and Kansai is international. The only airport where you will be able to truly do a good connection from international to domestic is going to be Chubu Centrair - and that will be a very big benefit for us."

Nagoya is the fourth-largest city in Japan and is home to many major companies, but its existing airport is surrounded by residential areas.

Komaki has an overnight curfew that begins at 21:00 and continues until 07:00, and a runway that at 2,740m (9,000ft) long means there are limited opportunities for long-haul flights.

Centrair, built on an artificial island in Ise Bay, will be open 24h and able to handle 17 million passengers annually, compared with 11.5 million at the existing Nagoya airport. Its passenger terminal is 217,800m2 (2.34 million ft2) in size, compared with 95,000m2 for the existing facility, while the cargo terminal will be 442,000m2, compared with just 34,500m2. Construction is nearly complete ahead of the start of full operational testing. The first test flight was held on the single 3,500m-long runway on 24 June and civil aviation authorities are continuing to operate test flights on a regular basis.

Construction has proceeded on time and under budget, say airport officials, who add that the original projected cost was ¥768 billion ($7.1 billion) and that this has so far been reduced by ¥100 billion. Work on interior fitting out of the passenger terminal is to be completed in September, while cargo facilities are due to be completed in December.

"Everything is basically on schedule, including access - the railways and roads," says one official. Journeys to Nagoya are expected to take 30-40min.

Independent forecasts call for the airport to handle around 12 million passengers in the first year of operation, compared with around 9.8 million at Komaki last year and 10.5 million in 2002. Cargo throughput is expected roughly to double to around 330,000t in the first year.

Commenting on the prospects of moving more freight through the airport, FedEx says: "The Chubu region is a major centre for manufacturing, especially the automobile and IT industries, with a high demand for overseas shipments. FedEx made the decision to begin flights into Central Japan international airport because of the increasing demand for access to superior express transport services."


Source: Airline Business