Construction work on a long-planned fourth runway at Asia's busiest airport, Tokyo's Haneda, has begun, although the opening date has slipped to late 2010. Work began at the end of March and the new runway will allow for the "internationalisation" of the congested airport, which now only handles scheduled domestic services apart from late night international charters and scheduled flights to Seoul's Gimpo airport.

The fourth runway will be 2,500m (8,200ft) long and it will allow for a more than 40% increase in take-off and landing slots, to around 407,000 a year from 285,000. Original plans called for construction to have begun last year and for the runway to open at the end of 2009. The opening target has now been pushed back to October 2010 because of delays in negotiating a compensation package with local fishermen.

A good percentage of the newly available slots will be set aside for international flights serving destinations up to 2,000km (1,080nm) away. Longer-haul services will remain at Narita.

The additional slots will enable new competitors to challenge All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. In anticipation they have been restructuring their operations in recent years. JAL is in a precarious financial position and has said it needs to have successfully implemented its restructuring plan before the fourth runway opens.

ANA executive vice-president Katsuhiko Kitabayashi says the runway will allow the carrier to increase frequencies on domestic routes and move some short-haul international flights from Narita to Haneda, freeing capacity at Narita to launch new long-haul routes.

Extra capacity at Haneda will also allow ANA to phase out its 23 Boeing 747-400s, which mostly fly on domestic routes. "We prefer frequency rather than capacity," Kitabayashi says. ANA has already stopped flying 747s on its US network and European routes will next switch over to smaller 777-300ERs, starting with London in May.

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Source: Airline Business