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Economy

By 2020, jetliners to be flying right over Tokyo

TOKYO -- Haneda Airport will get a capacity boost ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games so it can serve more international travelers, after local communities granted approval Thursday.

Departure and landing slots at the Tokyo airport are set to increase by 39,000 to 490,000 a year. This would translate to a 50% or so jump in international flight passengers to 19.64 million while pumping an additional 650 billion yen ($6.16 billion) into the economy, the transport ministry projects.

The plan is to amend how planes fly in and out so that runways can be used more efficiently. Currently, planes take a course over Tokyo Bay. Under the newly agreed-on plan, they will fly above central Tokyo in approaching the airport when the wind is blowing from the south and over the bay when departing. When the wind blows from the north, they will fly in over the bay.

The transport ministry met with local representatives Thursday and addressed residents' concerns regarding safety and noise. Municipalities including the Tokyo and Saitama prefectural offices reviewed the measures -- including increased use of quieter aircraft and higher altitudes -- and decided to support the central government's budget proposal.

Taxiways and facilities need to be added to accommodate the new takeoff and landing routes. The ministry will request the necessary funding in its fiscal 2017 budget proposal. Construction is to be completed in about three years, clearing the way for the new services to launch before the Olympics.

More flights at Haneda, which is close to central Tokyo, will facilitate international travel from Tokyo, both leisure and business. Domestic service will also benefit.

Daytime international flights are to increase from 60,000 a year to 99,000. The number of passengers traveling across borders is seen rising by 7.05 million, with foreigners accounting for 2.94 million of that, the ministry estimates.

The number of foreign travelers to Japan surged in 2015 to 19.74 million, and the government aims to raise this to 40 million by 2020. Expansion of Haneda is a key step in this effort.

The ministry put together a proposal in 2014 to increase the capacity of Tokyo-area airports by around 10%. With the market environment markedly different now, the slot increase agreed on Thursday is merely "the minimum required," says Hirotaka Yamauchi, a professor at Hitotsubashi University who attended the meeting where local communities gave their consent.

Major airlines welcomed the news. "We will work aggressively to expand international service at Haneda and Narita," All Nippon Airways President Osamu Shinobe said. Japan Airlines released a statement saying that mobility will improve for not only greater-Tokyo residents but also for people across Japan, as well as foreigners going to various parts of the country.

The Japanese government is working to raise the profile of the two main airports serving Tokyo. In terms of pure capacity, they are among the world's biggest hubs. But the number of cities and international travelers served lag behind other Asian airports. The two serve about 40 million international travelers per year, compared with Singapore Airport's 54 million and Hong Kong's 63 million. 

Meanwhile, the operator of Narita Airport -- in Chiba Prefecture farther from central Tokyo -- looks to lure more Asian travelers through its dedicated terminal for budget airlines. A third runway is also being considered to increase capacity.

(Nikkei)

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