Passengers on flights linking the United States and Japan are to benefit from a new "open-skies" agreement between the two nations, as well as the opening of a new runway at Tokyo's Haneda Airport in late 2010.
Airlines say the changes will offer consumers more choice and that increased competition on trans-Pacific routes will inevitably lead to reduced ticket prices.
The agreement was signed in early December, although it was not until December 23 that United Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Continental Airlines became the first operators to apply to the US Department of Transportation for antitrust immunity, required as a first step for airlines that are planning to increase their presence on the routes.
The agreement is expected to go into force in the middle of 2010, coinciding with the enhancement of Haneda's facilties.
"The previous treaty has been in place since 1952 and, although it has been revised and edited in the intervening years, this new agreement is a huge step forward in removing limits that have governed flights between the two countries," said Charles Duncan, staff vice president for the Asia Pacific region at Continental Airlines.
He also noted that restrictions will still be in place on airlines' access to Haneda, which is the preferred airport for travelers because it is much closer to central Tokyo than Narita airport.
Four flights will initially be opened up to both US and Japanese carriers when the new runway facilities are completed, with take-off slots restricted to after 10 p.m. and returning flights touching down before 7 a.m.
And despite the timing of the new slots, airlines see the developments as a positive outcome for consumers.
"Upon DOT approval of the companies' immunity application, we will be able to jointly manage trans-Pacific activities, including scheduling, pricing and sales, offering customers a greater selection of routings and a wider range of fare and service options," Megumi Tezuka, a spokeswoman for All Nippon Airways in Tokyo, told Relaxnews.
"Haneda is going to be open next October for international flights, and along with creating stronger cooperation with our partner airlines at that time, we are looking forward to expanding our network and having more customers enjoying traveling in and out of Japan," she said, although there have been no specific discussions on routes as yet.
The agreement has also been welcomed by Japan's flagship carrier, Japan Airlines, which has been hit hard by the recession.
The company has stated that key leisure destinations in the region - including Guam, Saipan and Hawaii - are critical in their planning as they are relatively close and make affordable holiday destinations. And if more airlines start operating these routes than prices will fall, making them even more popular with consumers.
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