Japan's major airlines have won clearance to use a new air corridor to Beijing which will save them millions of dollars annually in operating costs and could give them a significant competitive advantage over US rivals.

Flight times from Japan to the Chinese capital will be slashed by an hour and fares are likely to fall significantly as a result, giving Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways a critical edge over US carriers Northwest and United Airlines, which hold fifth freedom rights between Tokyo and Beijing. The Japanese majors are now awaiting final approval to use the new corridor, which cuts 20 per cent off the distance.

JAL says the shortcut would save the airline about ´200 million (US$1.85 million) a year, or 2 per cent of total operating costs on the route, and confirms that fares would come down but adds that 'agreement has to be made through the Iata forum,' suggesting any decrease will have little competitive impact.

JAL and ANA currently fly to Beijing over Shanghai, a distance of around 3,000km. The new air corridor - over Miho, Shimane Prefecture, Kangnung on the eastern coast of South Korea, Seoul and Dalian - cuts 600km off the journey. Narita-Beijing will now take three hours and 15 minutes, Kansai-Beijing two hours and 25 minutes and Nagoya-Beijing two hours and 45 minutes, all 60 minutes less than the old route.

Japanese airlines have been awaiting the approval since Beijing and Seoul normalized diplomatic relations in 1992. Clearance has been delayed because of technical problems involving Chinese air traffic control.

Tom Ballantyne

Source: Airline Business