Japan’s transport ministry has granted antitrust immunity for Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways to cooperate with partners on U.S. flights, paving the way for deals that may cut costs and boost sales.
Oneworld member Japan Air won approval for its alliance with American Airlines, and its Star Alliance rival All Nippon for its partnership with United Continental.
The U.S. and Japan are scheduled to sign an “Open Skies” agreement on 25 October that will end restrictions on the number of airlines that are permitted to fly between the two countries and what prices they can charge. The U.S. gave preliminary antitrust approval earlier this month, subject to the agreement being signed.
“The joint business with American will contribute to the growth and stability of both our businesses,” Japan Air President Masaru Onishi said in a statement. “We are intent on keeping the marketplace competitive.”
Meanwhile, Tokyo’s second biggest airport Haneda opened a new runway and passenger terminal this week, making it a fully-fledged international airport. This aims to boost the Japanese capital’s credentials as a hub of Asian aviation and enable it to better compete with rivals including Hong Kong International Airport and South Korea’s Incheon International Airport. .
The airport previously offered only domestic flights and some short-haul routes to East Asia. But over the next few months, it will launch new direct services to cities including London, Paris, Los Angeles, Honolulu, New York, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and Bangkok.
Haneda is set to eventually handle 60,000 flights and over seven million passengers a year, according to its operator.
The Japanese government, looking for ways to boost the flagging economy, hopes the convenient hub will bring more Asian visitors to the country, which is seen as falling below its tourism potential.
“We strongly hope that the opening of international routes at Haneda will help to raise the number of visitors in Japan,” said a transport ministry official at the opening ceremony.
The Japan Tourism Agency aims to almost quadruple the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan to 3.9 million in 2013, and in July eased visa requirements to encourage this.
Haneda, now officially called Tokyo International Airport, is a 20-minute monorail ride from central Tokyo, while getting to Narita from downtown Tokyo by rail or bus takes one hour to 90 minutes.
But industry players also complain that Japan is one of the world’s most expensive places to land, with surcharges around 26,000 yen (320 dollars) per kilolitre of fuel, far above London’s Heathrow or New York’s JFK Airport.
These high operating costs means Japanese low-cost carriers such as Skymark have been unable to offer the kind of heavily discounted fares associated with budget airlines in the United States and Europe.