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Economy

Tokyo airport's capacity boost hits turbulence from US

New flight path at Haneda Airport is key to Japan's 40m visitor goal

Planes on the runway at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Japan aims to increase international flights there with a more efficient flight path.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Preparations to shift flight patterns at Tokyo's Haneda Airport to expand capacity before the 2020 Summer Olympics have stalled, as Japan and the U.S. military butt heads over nearby airspace.

Under the new pattern first announced by Japan's transport ministry in 2014, planes would land and depart at Haneda by flying over central Tokyo rather than over Tokyo Bay so that runways can be used more efficiently. The government has since met with local residents to discuss such concerns as noise and safety.

Airline operators looking to tap into brisk travel demand have high expectations for the revised path, which is considered essential for expanding the number of visitors to Japan.

The course, however, would partially pass through air space managed by the U.S. military's Yokota Air Base. Japan has been coordinating with the U.S. under the assumption that planes will be able to pass through, and that Japanese air traffic controllers will direct passenger aircraft.

But the U.S. appears to be pushing back on both counts. Negotiations with the U.S. are currently stuck, with no breakthrough in sight.

Daytime international flights would increase to 99,000 annually from 60,000 with the new path. Discussion over how to allocate those slots was set to begin later this year but could be delayed.

Demand for flights is expected to grow as the Olympics approach. Raising capacity at Haneda would also make it easier for Tokyo residents and for connecting passengers from numerous other airports in Japan to travel abroad.

The government considers tourism a pillar of its economic growth strategy, and aims to be bringing in 40 million visitors to Japan a year by 2020. Expanding capacity at Haneda will likely generate about 650 billion yen ($6 billion at current rates) in economic benefits annually, the transport ministry estimates. The government may be forced to rethink its tourism strategy, however, should talks with the U.S. continue to falter.

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