Plans by Northwest Airlines to base narrowbody jets at Tokyo's Narita airport from next May could raise aeropolitical tensions between the USA and Japan.

Narita is opening a second, shorter runway B at that time, and Japanese officials have asked US and other carriers to move flights with shorter stage lengths to the new runway, freeing up runway A slots for reassignment. This longer runway has been at full capacity for years, according to Japanese transport officials. This has resulted in long delays for airlines, especially those from Europe, who seek more flights.

It appears, however, that Northwest does not intend to shift flights from A, but to add new flights from runway B. This would allow it to exploit its unlimited fifth freedom rights under the US-Japan bilateral.

"We are not sure what they will do with these aircraft," says a worried Japan Airlines. Northwest hasn't said how many aircraft will be deployed at Narita and [on] which routes." Addressing Northwest employees, chief executive Richard Anderson spoke of "expanding" to new Asian destinations and "building our network in Narita".

Tokyo has so far resisted offering more US slots following the opening of the new runway. Japanese carriers argue that slot allocations for the new runway offer the only chance to correct the historic imbalance that favours US airlines.

Source: Airline Business