Australian and Japanese airlines have been awarded four new slot pairs nonstop flights between Australia and Tokyo Haneda Airport.
The allocation from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), announced on Monday, comprised two new slot pairs for Japanese carriers – one for All Nippon Airways (ANA) and one for Japan Airlines – and two new slot pairs for Australian carriers.
Also, the slots would be for daytime services – notionally between 0600 and 2255 – as air traffic managers open up more airspace in the Tokyo area to support the additional flights.
The slots will be available to be taken up from March 29 2020.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said access to Tokyo Haneda was highly sought after around the world.
“This excellent outcome lays the foundation for airlines to increase direct flights between Australia and Japan,” McCormack said in statement on Monday.
“These expanded arrangements support the enduring tourism, trade and people-to-people links between our two countries.
Currently, there is only one route between Tokyo Haneda and Australia, with both ANA and Qantas offering nonstop flights to Sydney.
ANA started Boeing 787 services on the route in December 2015, when it returned to Australia after more than a decade away from the market.
Meanwhile, Qantas switched its daily Boeing 747-400/400ER Sydney-Tokyo services from Narita to the close-in Haneda airport in July 2015.
The availability of additional slots at Tokyo Haneda was likely to offer Qantas some flexibility in how it manages the withdrawal of the Boeing 747 from the fleet by the end of 2020.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said previously the airline was unable to fly the Airbus A380 to Tokyo Haneda because of operating restrictions at the airport.
The other current options in the Qantas fleet to replace the 364-seat 747-400/400ER on the route included smaller-gauge Airbus A330-200 or A330-300s, which have either 251, 271 or 297 seats in a two-class configuration, or three-class, 236-seat Boeing 787-9s.
Tokyo Haneda Airport, which is located much closer to Tokyo city than Tokyo Narita, had previously been predominantly used by Japanese carriers as a domestic airport.
However, there have been efforts to expand the number of international services at Haneda amid a Japanese government push to attract more tourists to the country.
The Rugby World Cup, which starts later in September, is being played across Japan. Meanwhile, in 2020, Tokyo will host the summer Olympics and Paralympics.
Japan is targeting 40 million annual visitors to the country by 2020.
Figures from the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) showed total visitor numbers to Japan have increased from about 10 million in 2013 to more than 30 million in 2018.
Further, the JNTO data indicated 552,440 Australians visited Japan in calendar 2018, an 11.5 per cent improvement from the prior year and a 10-fold increase from about 56,000 in 1990.
Meanwhile, Tourism Australia statistics showed there were 469,000 Japanese visitors to Australia in 2018, up 7.9 per cent from the prior year.
Other nonstop flights between Australia and Japan included Sydney-Osaka Kansai (Qantas), Sydney-Tokyo Narita (Japan Airlines), Melbourne-Tokyo Narita (Japan Airlines and Qantas), Brisbane-Tokyo Narita (Qantas) and the recently commenced Perth-Tokyo Narita service from ANA.
Also, Qantas’s low-cost carrier (LCC) unit Jetstar has three routes – Gold Coast-Tokyo Narita, Cairns-Osaka Kansai and Cairns-Tokyo Narita.
And there is new capacity coming later in 2019, with Qantas scheduled to operate a seasonal Sydney-Sapporo nonstop flight with Airbus A330 equipment between December 2019 and March 2020.
The allocation was among a package of 50 slot pairs for international services at Tokyo Haneda that was distributed on Monday, with 25 for Japanese airlines and 25 for international carriers.
The largest allocation was for United States flights, which have increased by 24 – six for ANA, six for Japan Airlines and 12 for US carriers.
There were also eight slots for Chinese services – two for ANA, two for Japan Airlines and four for Chinese airlines.
Australia and the Russian Federation received four slots, while India, Italy, Turkey, Finland and the countries of Scandinavia had two slots each.
All up, ANA received 13.5 slots and Japan Airlines 11.5 slots.