Japan's Transport Ministry is finalising new customs, immigration and quarantine procedures for Tokyo's domestic Haneda airport to allow for international charter flights. For years, studies have looked at opening up Haneda to ease congestion at crowded Narita International Airport.

The February target for overnight charter flights was set in December, when officials from Chiba prefecture - the state in which Narita is located - hesitantly agreed to back proposals for international charter flights from Haneda during overnight hours.

The Japanese Government has been studying the possibility of opening Haneda to international flights for some time to ease the burden on Tokyo's busy single-runway Narita, which has an overnight curfew. Under the plan, international charters will be allowed to operate to and from Haneda between 23:00h and 06:00h daily.

Government officials have been careful to stress that there are no immediate plans to officially designate Haneda as Tokyo's second international airport, however. Chiba authorities fear this will lead to a decline in business at Narita, which is located further from Tokyo's business district than Haneda.

They have also expressed concern that there will be an increase in aircraft noise over Chiba if Haneda is widely opened to international flights, and are concerned that such a move would give surrounding landowners more excuses to continue holding out from selling land needed to expand Narita airport.

Construction of a long-delayed second runway finally began at Narita in December 1999, but the government was forced to amend plans for a 2,500m- (8,200ft) long strip because of a breakdown in negotiations with landowners. A shorter runway is now being built north of the original site on land that the government already owns.

The three-runway Haneda airport has officially been a domestic facility since 1978, when Narita opened as the country's main gateway.

While it regularly handles international flights from Taiwan's China Airlines and EVA Airways, this is for political reasons, and services only operate during daytime hours. China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and the Japanese government does not want to offend Beijing. Flights by mainland Chinese airlines operate to Narita.

Source: Airline Business