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Government to slash international landing fees at small airports

TOKYO -- Japan's transport ministry in fiscal 2016 intends to lower or eliminate landing fees at many of the country's minor airports for airlines that add international flights to and from these gateways, sources said Thursday.

     The government will shoulder the same amount of these landing costs that regional governments do on behalf of airlines. The planned cost reduction would apply to airlines flying via 25 airports other than Haneda, in Tokyo, and a few others that already handle large numbers of foreign tourists.

     The idea is to lure more international visitors away from Japan's largest cities.

     The reduced landing fees will be available to regular and charter overseas flights operated by Japanese and non-Japanese airlines. The plan will likely cover 25 airports, including those in Kushiro, Hokkaido; Hakodate, Hokkaido; Niigata; Ibaraki; Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture; Hiroshima; Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture; Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture; Tokushima; Kochi; Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture; Nagasaki; Kumamoto; Oita; Miyazaki; Kagoshima; and Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

     Metro governments are to call on the central government to slash landing fees for airlines flying via these and other out-of-the-way cities. If the requests are accepted, the central and given local governments would shoulder equal amounts of the landing fees.

     A budget airline pays about 30 million yen ($244,878) a year in landing fees for a medium-size jet carrying foreign visitors to a so-called regional city. This cost will be eliminated if the central and local governments agree to pay 15 million yen each under the new program.

     The landing-fee waiver will be effective for a year but could be extended for another year and beyond if the measure proves effective in boosting the number of globe-trotters to Japan's less-visited cities.

     The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism estimates the measure will result in 500 million yen in landing fee reductions for the fiscal year through March 2017. The fee cut could translate into lower air fares.

     Airlines that inaugurate a new route or increase the number of flights on an existing route can expect to incur initial investment costs of several tens of millions of yen. The money goes into opening new offices or increased advertising budgets.

     The ministry hopes that by reducing this initial outlay, it can persuade airlines to make use of Japan's smaller airports.

     The central government has been trying to entice foreign tourists off the beaten path. The Japan Tourism Agency in June designated seven areas it would focus these efforts on. The agency is working with regional governments in these areas to set up tourist facilities, improve access to cities and put up multilingual signs.

     According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of foreign visitors to Japan could reach a record 20 million this year, thanks to Chinese and other Asian travelers taking advantage of the weak yen, easier visa procedures and a duty-free shopping program.

     Foreign tourists, however, tend to flock to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and the foothills around Mount Fuji.

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