AVIATION: ANALYSIS

Japan’s Narita airport plans third runway amid tourist surge

Addition would increase take-off and landing slots from 300,000 a year at present to around 500,000

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 11:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 11:55pm

The operator of Narita International Airport is in discussions with the national government, the prefectural authority and local communities over the construction of a new 3,500-metre runway to meet growing demand for flights to and from Japan.

More than 11.4 million foreign nationals arrived in Japan in the first six months of 2016, a record high and the first time the figure has surpassed the 10 million mark. The surge in tourist numbers has placed a strain on infrastructure, although officials admit it is unlikely that the planned new runway will be completed in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, when more than 40 million people are expected to visit Japan.

A committee has drawn up a proposal for the third runway at the airport, in Chiba Prefecture to the east of Tokyo, that would increase take-off and landing slots from 300,000 a year at present to around 500,000.

That sort of capacity would enable Narita to be more competitive against Haneda International Airport, which is to the South of Tokyo but is preferred by many travellers because it is much closer to the centre of the city. Further expansion of Haneda is limited because of its location alongside Tokyo Bay, as well as on reclaimed land.

Narita has been missing out to other regional airports in Hong Kong and Incheon and the authorities seem to want to make Narita into a hub
Geoffrey Tudor, Japan Aviation Management Research

Narita International Airport Corp also hopes that adding a third runway will make the facility more attractive against the regional hub airports that have emerged in Hong Kong, Singapore and Incheon, South Korea.

“We are at the start line in terms of whether we will be able to go ahead with this proposal and when it might be ready,” Koh Takagi, of the company’s International Department, told the South China Morning Post. “We have to negotiate with the local authorities and local residents to win their understanding for the proposal and that might take a long time if there is resistance.”

Narita airport opened in May 1978 after an often bitter 16-year dispute with local landowners, farmers and residents.

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The struggle became violent at times, with radical left-wing protestors and students attacking security officials and Narita employees. Just weeks before the scheduled opening of the airport, they managed to storm the control tower and destroyed much of its equipment.

Analysts do not anticipate violent opposition to the latest expansion plan, but negotiations on compensation for farmers whose land will be expropriated for the new runway may take time.

“It looks like they are getting a consensus in the local community in favour of expansion because they see the benefits of the airport to the surrounding area,” said Geoffrey Tudor, senior analyst for Japan Aviation Management Research.

“Increasing landing and takeoff slots to 500,000 a year would be a great benefit to the airport and they are clearly banking on growth in the air transport sector, including in the low-cost carrier sector,” he said.

That would appear to be a reasonable bet, with the forecast for global aviation to triple by 2050.

“For many years, Narita has been missing out to other regional airports in Hong Kong and Incheon and the authorities seem to want to make Narita into a hub, which its relative size has previously meant was impossible,” Tudor added.