The first regular "shuttle flights" between the domestic airports of the Japanese and South Korean capitals are set to begin on 30 November in a move aimed at reducing travel times and boosting trade ties.

The two governments reached final agreement late in October for four daytime passenger charter services to be flown between domestic airports Tokyo Haneda and Seoul Gimpo by major carriers from the two countries.

All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Asiana Airlines and Korean Air will each be allowed to operate one daily round-trip flight, and all say they plan to do so. However, they must also maintain existing services between the main international airports of Tokyo Narita and Seoul Incheon.

Flying times will be reduced by only a few minutes over the existing flights that are operated between Narita and Incheon, but overall travelling times will be cut by several hours, as Haneda and Gimpo are much closer to downtown business districts.

The flights represent the first international service for Gimpo since early 2001, when these were transferred to the new Incheon hub, built outside Seoul. Haneda is already one of the world's busiest airports but only a small percentage of its passenger traffic comes from international charter flights that are permitted on a restricted basis at night.

Congested Haneda is due to get a fourth runway around 2009, however, after which most Japanese industry officials expect it to be formally designated an international facility catering to short-haul overseas services.

When Haneda's fourth runway opens it will add 24 hourly landing and take-off slots to the 56 now available at Asia's busiest airport. Annually 56 million people use the airport.

The planned start of Haneda-Gimpo flights follows a verbal agreement that was reached in June between the leaders of Japan and South Korea at wide-ranging bilateral talks. They say they hope the move will lead to increased business links between the two countries.

Source: Airline Business