Narita fights to remain gateway to Tokyo

Tokyo's much-maligned Narita International Airport is fighting back as attention focuses on the improved services that are being made available at the city's other airport.

After its opening in May 1978, Narita was promoted as the international gateway to Japan, yet it was never truly popular with travelers because of its distance from central Tokyo - it has until recently taken around an hour to travel the 57 km - and the restrictions placed on early morning and late night flights due to noise pollution issues.

As a result, there was a sigh of relief when the government announced that it would turn the city's other international airport, Haneda, into a 24-hour facility with the addition of new runways on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. And conveniently situated just 15 minutes from the center of the city, it is already attracting more airlines to its runways.

The expanded Haneda airport opened its new international terminal on October 21, but the operators of Narita have already announced expansion plans of their own.

The number of flights to and from the airport is to be gradually increased from 220,000 annually at present to 300,000 a year by 2014 through the more efficient use of runways and permitting simultaneous landings and take-offs from the airport's two runways.

Narita International Airport Corp. also wants to step up the number of flights to and from domestic destinations. Only eight domestic routes are served from Narita with the vast majority provided by Haneda at present.

In potentially the most far-reaching development, however, the company is planning to build a new terminal for low-cost carriers from other Asian nations and reducing its landing fees for airlines that open new routes to Narita.

Australia's Jetstar Airways is presently the only budget carrier flying into Narita, but Malaysia's AisAsia X is expected to add the airport to its destinations in the near future and Cebu Pacific Air, of the Philippines, is also reportedly interested in flying to the airport.

The company also hopes to feel the impact of the introduction of a new rail link with Tokyo, the Narita Sky Access, which only opened in July and has cut the transit time to just 36 minutes.