TOKYO -- Japan's move to earmark half of new slots at Haneda Airport to flights serving U.S. cities is tied to the American military agreeing to open up its airspace around Tokyo, more so than the government's efforts to encourage inbound tourism.
As Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, the airport near central Tokyo is slated to increase its daytime arrival and departure slots to 99,000 a year from 60,000. The daily increase will come to around 50 flights, with 24 of those set aside for Japan-U.S. routes.
Work is underway to award 12 of the new slots to U.S. airlines, Japan Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii told reporters after a cabinet meeting Tuesday. Japanese airlines are expected to receive the other 12 slots. Long-haul flights between Japan and the U.S. are a key earnings source for airlines. The industry had anticipated nearly 20 of the new slots going to these routes.
This allocation of half of the new slots to U.S. flights cannot be fully explained by the Japanese government's goal of 40 million visitors in 2020. Last year, around 1.5 million people came to Japan from the U.S., compared with 8.38 million from China and 7.54 million from South Korea.
The U.S. military's Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo controls a large chunk of the airspace around the capital. When Japan asked the U.S. to allow commercial flights to pass through the space during certain times of the day, Washington hesitated because of potential disruptions to drills and other military activities. Japan may have used the large allocation to U.S. flights as a bargaining chip on the issue.
Haneda is also a major transit point offering travelers easy access to many overseas destinations. How the remaining slots are divvied up between China, Russia, Europe and the rest of Asia will be watched closely.