Delegations representing the governments of the United States and Japan announced in Tokyo last month that they had successfully negotiated an amendment to their Open Skies agreement. The proposed amendment is significant as it provides for the first time since 1978 daytime services by US and Japanese air carriers between the United States and Tokyo International Airport (Haneda), the busiest in Japan and the closest to downtown Tokyo.
Under the current agreement, US airlines have a total of four slot pairs (four arrivals and four departures) for service to and from Haneda, which are now restricted to use during nighttime hours. Under the proposed amendment, these four slot pairs would be transferred to daytime hours. In addition, a fifth daytime slot pair for scheduled service to and from Haneda would be added and US airlines would be able to continue operating one nighttime slot pair.
The agreement makes slots available for scheduled combination service by the designated airlines of each country to a total of five pairs of slots during daytime hours between 06:00 and 22:55 hours (local time) and one pair of slots during late night and early morning hours between 22:00 and 06:55 hours (local time). These slots cannot be used for all-cargo service and airlines may operate no more than 600 one-way charter flights per year.
Several US carriers have already expressed strong interest in offering daytime service to Haneda which could take effect as early as autumn this year. The US has urged that every effort be made by the Japan Schedule Coordination (JSC) to assign commercially viable daytime slots at Haneda to the carriers that are allocated the slot pairs by the US government.
US carrier American Airlines and United Airlines have both applauded the new ruling which will allow them to better serve the Tokyo market, operate more competitively with Asian rivals and make better use of the enhanced accessibility of Heneda for downtown Tokyo.
Scott Kirby, President, American Airlines said the agreement marked an important step in enhancing the US and Japan aviation relationship. “It’s important for our customers to have convenient access to downtown Tokyo during the day, and this agreement also allows for desirable arrival and departure times in the US for Haneda service,” he said.
Last month, American introduced a daily, year-round, non-stop service from Los Angeles International Airport to Haneda utilising nighttime slots. The flight arrives in Tokyo at 11pm and departs at 1:30am. The carrier confirmed the departure and arrival times “will change this autumn” when the new daytime Haneda slots are anticipated to be available and will allow for more convenient connections to American’s Los Angeles network and its joint business partner Japan Airlines’ network beyond Haneda.
The positive views on the ruling were echoed by American’s rival, United Airlines which plans to similarly switch its current San Francisco – Tokyo Haneda operation to a daytime operation. "Offering daytime service to and from the heart of Tokyo will create appealing new business and leisure travel opportunities for our global customers. We look forward to providing more convenient access to this key market from our San Francisco hub, where United offers more nonstop trans-Pacific flights than any other carrier,” it said in a statement.
Access to Haneda has been restricted due to capacity constraints for a number of years and although a project to expand the airport will ease this issue, it is likely that demand will continue to outstrip the supply of slots available at the airport. It is unclear if this project will be completed by its proposed 2020 timetable.
In documentation supporting the new amendment to the open skies agreement, Japanese regulatory representatives noted that Haneda’s operational restrictions would continue even after its capacity expansion by 2020.
“At present, it is uncertain whether the Haneda expansion plan can be realised by 2020 and how many slots can be made available by then. Accordingly, the delegation stated that Japan is not engaged in negotiations with any country regarding the planned expansion of Haneda and does not intend to engage in such negotiations until late 2018,” it said.
In the meantime it is the intention to further develop Narita airport and to support Narita in its role as the major international hub in Japan and also as a gateway connecting traffic between Asia and North America. The airport is now equipped with a 4,000-metre runway and, as of 2016, is able to accommodate sixty-eight movements per hour and discussions with local communities for further expanded capacity at the airport by building a third runway have just started.