TOKYO -- Japan's Haneda Airport will be able to accommodate 7 million additional travelers a year after opening new flight paths over the capital's residential area, a capacity increase crucial to handling a surge of visitors for the Olympics next summer.
Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii on Thursday announced that the new routes will open in March 2020, saying the airport has the understanding of affected communities. International flight slots at Haneda will rise to 99,000 a year in 2020 from the current 60,000. This translates to 50 additional flights a day.
The new flight routes were made possible after Washington agreed to let commercial flights pass through airspace controlled by the U.S. Yokota Air Base. But even after the capacity increase, combined passenger traffic at the two international airports serving Greater Tokyo -- Haneda and Narita -- will total 57 million, far fewer than that at gateways in other parts of Asia.
Citing the need to raise international competitiveness and a surge of inbound tourism, Ishii stressed that "a capacity increase is inevitable." He added that the government will work with the communities to ease concerns about noise pollution and objects falling from passing airplanes.
While planes leaving and arriving at Haneda currently fly over Tokyo Bay, the new routes pass above central districts of Tokyo, such as Shibuya, Shinjuku and Shinagawa.
With the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, "the expansion of Haneda Airport is crucial," said Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike in a statement welcoming the opening of the new route.
The expansion will also have an economic impact. The added international flights will attract 7.05 million more travelers in and out of Haneda -- 2.94 million foreign travelers and 4.11 million Japanese -- according to the transport ministry. This will result in an economic benefit of 650 billion yen ($6.12 billion) a year, according to the ministry.
Still, hubs in Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore are much busier, with passengers of 72 million, 66 million and 62 million, respectively. Haneda and Narita also connect Tokyo with fewer international cities than their peers.
Haneda's charm is its proximity to the city center but it also limits expansions. A third runway at Narita, slated to open in the late 2020s, will increase landings and takeoffs at the twin airports to about 1 million slots, comparable with other big international cities. But to make Narita more attractive, quicker access to downtown Tokyo from the airport's rural location in Chiba Prefecture will be vital.