North Asian aviation growth is a step closer to being unshackled, with the signing of an ‘open skies’ deal between Japan and South Korea. The two sides have agreed to lift restrictions on frequency, capacity and destinations, with the exception of the congested Tokyo airports, covering both cargo and passenger services.
Korean Air and Asiana Airlines currently operate a combined 330 services per week to 25 cities in Japan, while ANA and Japan Airlines (JAL) offer 92 services per week to two cities in Korea. This number should increase under the ‘open skies’ agreement, as the major airlines from both countries focus increasingly on lucrative short-haul market opportunities, particularly the restructuring JAL.
In Apr-07, the Japanese Government unveiled its most radical liberalisation of aviation access in decades. Its ‘Asia Gateway Plan’ aims to remove restrictions on foreign airline access to its regional airports, to boost trade and tourism, but also help spur greater liberalisation within Asia in a response to the landmark EU-US ‘open skies’ pact.
Korea, meanwhile, is also pursuing more liberal aviation agreements, signing ‘open skies’ deals already this year with Malaysia and Kenya.
The linkage between the two North Asian neighbours is a significant step, and the agreement could be expected to broaden in scope as more capacity becomes available at Tokyo Narita and Haneda airports in the years ahead.
But crucially, it could prompt China to act. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation has estmiated that opening regional markets of Japan, Korea and China would have the potential for incremental growth of 300 million short haul passengers. It is a massive aviation market waiting to be tapped - and now one step closer to reality.