The aviation industry has welcomed the Japanese government's announcement of the opening of the new runway and facilities at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, while airlines are scrambling to increase their presence at the new facility.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism announced on Friday that the airport's fourth runway and the new passenger terminal use will be open for use on October 21 and the first international scheduled flight will take off on October 31.
The introduction of the new facilities will greatly increase the capacity of the airport - including enabling 24-hour operations - and will be popular with travellers because of its proximity to central Tokyo. At present, international travellers are primarily routed through Narita Airport, which is much-criticized because of its remote position, 50 km east of the Japanese capital, and the lack of a high-speed surface transport link to the city.
Airlines have been quick to seize the opportunity, with Masaru Onishi, president and chief operating officer of Japan Airlines, saying, "The launch of more international routes from Haneda Airport and its latest international passenger terminal is strategically important to JAL, and we are delighted at the announcement."
From October 31, JAL plans to start flying from Haneda to San Francisco, Honolulu, Paris, Bangkok and Taipei, he said.
The United States' Department of Transport has also granted tentative approval for American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Hawaiian Airlines to operate four new routes to Haneda as soon as the runway is open for business.
Delta will fly from Haneda to Los Angeles and Detroit, American is adding a new New York serice and Hawaiian will have twice-daily services to Honolulu.
Currently, Haneda's internationl flights are limited to four cities in China and South Korea, but the expansion work - on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay - will enable the airport to add 32 new international flights every day, as well as a number of domestic routes.
The new runway will also open up opportunities for regional budget airlines - a relatively new concept in Japan, where the domestic industry has until now been dominated by JAL and All Nippon Airways.
Budget carrier Skymark Airlines has applied to start charter flights between Tokyo and Guam later this year, stepping into the void left by JAL's decision to reduce services on the route.
In an exemption request filed on April 14, the company announced that it would aim to start its new services between Tokyo's Haneda Airport and Guam, initially operating eight round-trip flights on Wednesdays and Sundays between August 4 and 29.
Skymark intends to use two of its fleet of 12 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, each of which are capable of carrying 177 passengers. The route will be the airline's first international service and is reportedly part of a strategy to expand the company's business across the Northern Marianas Islands and to points beyond in the United States.
"Guam is one of the closest destinations that Skymark can fly to that is outside Japan, but it's an ideal destination for them because the route is very easy to operate, the distance is not too taxing, there are no time zone differences and demand will be solid," Yoshitomo Aoki, an airline industry analyst, told Relaxnews.