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China flights to Haneda increase; some concerned the “Japan boom” may be a passing craze

  • 2015-10-21 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: October 21, 2015 – p. 13)


 Oct. 21 marks the fifth anniversary of the redesignation of Haneda as an international airport. Over the five years, the airport has expanded flights, first flights to Japan’s Asian neighbors and now also flights to the United States, Europe, Oceania, and the Middle East. On Oct. 25, several new daytime flights linking Japan and the Chinese mainland will be launched. Moreover, Spring Airlines and other new Chinese airlines have also started service to Haneda in the late-evening-to-early-morning time slot. With Chinese visiting Japan in unprecedented numbers, Chinese airlines are converging on Tokyo.


 Chinese visitors increase 2.3 fold


 “We have never seen growth like this before!” exclaims an All Nippon Airways (ANA) marketing official, unable to hide his surprise at the dramatic rise in the number of Chinese visitors to Japan since February. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, people visiting Japan from the Chinese mainland numbered 590,000 in August, 2.3 times the number in August 2014. ANA’s China routes have been operating at around 85% seat occupancy, a rate that exceeds that of flights to Europe and the United States, which have traditionally been the top earners.


 In response to the robust Chinese demand, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has embarked on the expansion of Haneda’s China routes, which had been postponed due to the deterioration of Japan-China ties. The MLIT is increasing the number of daytime slots for China flights to 140 roundtrips per week. The newly created slots will be allocated to Japanese and Chinese carriers. Starting Oct. 25, ANA and Japan Airlines (JAL) will each increase service to two roundtrips a day to Beijing and Shanghai and will newly launch one roundtrip a day to Guangzhou. The coastal areas of China will become even closer from Japan for business and tourism with this increase in China flights and destinations.


 This summer, Haneda started to also use the late-evening-to-early-morning time slot for China routes. Noteworthy was the lineup of carriers that the Chinese authorities selected. Slots were allocated to eight companies, including Spring Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, and other new Chinese airlines that are not yet well known in Japan.


 Until now, the MLIT has directed major airlines, which target business customers, to Haneda and low cost carriers, which focus on leisure customers, to Narita Airport. Some say that this difference between the two airports will fade if new carriers from overseas serve Haneda even if the flights are during the late-night-to-early-morning time slot.


 Concern about the supply-and-demand balance


 Including both regular and charter flights, Chinese carriers will have up to 28 roundtrips a week to Haneda during the late-night-to-early-morning slot in the winter schedule, which will take effect on Oct. 25. Anticipating an increase in the number of passengers, the MLIT has also set to enhancing airport access, including increasing the number of late-night buses connecting Haneda with central Tokyo.


 According to ANA, the total scale of service (based on seat-kilometers) between Japan and China in the second half of fiscal 2015 is expected to be 70% greater than that of the first half of fiscal 2011 before the Senkaku issue grew serious. Chinese carriers are also expanding their service to Kansai International Airport and other regional airports. It is forecast that Chinese carriers will account for 68% of all service in the second half of 2015, up from 53% in the first half of 2011.


 In terms of attracting customers, a JAL representative explained, “Chinese airlines have an advantage because they can harness their domestic sales networks.” For this reason, some in Japan are concerned that the supply-and-demand balance will worsen. An ANA official said, “There is even a chance that the seat occupancy rate on our China flights will decline to below 80% in the new year.”


 The number of Chinese visitors to Japan continues to increase even now on the back of the weak yen and the relaxation of visa requirements. As the slowdown in the Chinese economy becomes more evident, however, there is concern that the Japan boom may prove to be a passing craze. It is predicted that the seat occupancy rate may prove tough to maintain in the late-evening-to-early-morning slot because flight connections are poor during those hours. Airlines are holding their breath as they wait to see passenger trends after the October increase in China flights.


Chinese airlines serving Haneda Airport

Already serving Haneda

Scheduled to start service on Oct. 25

Daytime slot (6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.)

Air China (Beijing route), China Eastern Airlines (Shanghai route), and Shanghai Airlines (Shanghai route)

China Southern Airlines (Guangzhou route)

Late-night-to-early-morning slot (11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.)

Spring Airlines (Shanghai route), Juneyao Airlines (Shanghai route), and Tianjin Airlines (Tianjin route)

China Southern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Shandong Airlines, and others

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