Asia's airport congestion problems are largely confined to Japan, where 568-seat Boeing 747-400Ds regularly operate on domestic routes out of Tokyo's Haneda.

There have been major developments in recent years, however, with a second runway now in use at Tokyo's Narita international facility and a fourth runway planned at Haneda, which is by far Asia's busiest airport, but which mainly handles domestic traffic. The two airports have also become much more efficient, allowing for many more services on the busy runways that they have.

At Haneda, the result has been a sharp drop in the size of aircraft used, which is not good news for Airbus and Boeing in their long-standing efforts to sell new large aircraft for use on domestic services. All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines (JAL) are, for example, firm in their shared belief that there will be no need for the new Airbus A380 on internal services.

One statistic sums things up well: JAL figures show that in the 2001 calendar year, aircraft operating out of Haneda had an average of 370 seats, while by the following year the number had fallen to 330 seats.

The government also recently gave Japan's airlines more good news when it announced that construction of a long-planned fourth runway at Haneda would begin next year.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport recently awarded a ¥598.5 billion ($5.5 billion) construction contract for the new runway. It will be 2,500m (8,200ft) long and land reclamation work is due to begin in spring 2006. All construction work should be completed in February 2009.

Haneda's new runway is expected to herald a big increase in take-off and landing slots, to 407,000 a year – up from 285,000 – allowing for many more domestic services and true "internationalisation" of the facility.

ANA and JAL have long been pressing authorities to allow more international services from Haneda, much closer to Tokyo's business districts than the flagship Narita, which is far outside the city. Haneda slots have been continuously fully used over the years, while Narita had slots readily available to international carriers until 1991.

Haneda's international services are now limited to only a small number of shuttle flights to Seoul's secondary Gimpo airport and some late-night international charter flights.

New airlines that have launched domestic services in recent years are also looking forward to the opening of the new runway, as they are being promised a significant portion of the new slots. These new carriers, such as Air Do and Skymark Airlines, have struggled over the years following the completion of a phased deregulation in 1998, in part because congestion at Haneda has prevented them from offering the frequency of service needed to compete. They both started operations with widebody Boeing 767s, but have begun adding smaller 737s.

Positive signs are also emerging from Narita airport, which is expected to increase the number of annual slots on offer to 220,000 in 2007. A second runway opened there in April 2002 after decades of delays, allowing for an increase in annual movements to the current 200,000 level from the previous 135,000 a year.

The government has sought to extend the airport's second runway, which is only 2,180m in length, but local farmers refuse to sell land needed for it. Narita opened in 1978 and original plans called for it to have three runways. It has been the subject of intense disputes for years, as landowners are still angry over the way their neighbours were forced out when planning began in the 1960s.


Source: Airline Business