Tokyo Haneda’s slow ascent

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Air Canada's first B787 Dreamliner has been assigned to a brand new route for the Canadian carrier. After some initial trips to familiarize crews with the new plane, the aircraft is going to enter scheduled service in mid-July on the Toronto-Tokyo Haneda sector.

Vito Cerone, director of marketing and sales for the Americas at Air Canada Cargo, is enthusiastic about the new service, the airline’s first route into Haneda.

"We were one of the lucky few carriers who were given slots at Haneda," he says.

Haneda, which languished in a domestic role until 2010, when the authorities first allowed a few international routes, is pushing for a stronger role in the international arena. This year, slots for international flights are going up from 60,000 to 90,000, with new services to London, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt and Toronto. At the same time, links to Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore are being ramped up.

However, a lot of the freight headed to Haneda will end up on a truck to Narita for deconsolidation, Tokyo's long-standing international airport. Japan Airlines Cargo is running almost 10 trucks a day between the two airports. For outbound traffic, most forwarders consolidate shipments at Narita and then truck them to Haneda for departures from there, says Tomoyasu Fukuyama, president of Japanese forwarder Logi-Rex.

This is ironic, given Haneda's closer proximity to downtown Tokyo, not to mention its reach to manufacturing areas.

"Within a 10-kilometer radius around Haneda, you have lots of factories; 10 kilometers around Narita, it is all fields," Mark Slade, president of DHL Global Forwarding Japan, says.

The reason for this is the fact that most forwarders have established their infrastructure at Narita and find it prohibitive to set up shop at Haneda, Shinya Nagayasu, manager of international route marketing at JAL Cargo, says.

Fukuyama says land costs at Haneda are about three or four times those at Narita. Using the neutral infrastructure there is not cheap either.

"Some companies do same-day clearance and delivery at Haneda, and their costs are about 30 percent higher than at Narita," Fukuyama says. "Service quality at Handea is not a problem, but cost is."

What makes this more daunting for small- and mid-sized forwarders (some of the large agents, such as Nippon Express or DHL Global Forwarding, do have facilities at Haneda) is the relatively small volume that flows through the erstwhile domestic airport. In the past fiscal year, Haneda handled about 150,000 tonnes, while some 1.9 million tonnes were processed at Narita.

"The volume at Haneda is too small to justify the investment in a warehouse and manpower," Fukuyama says.

There is also the matter of freighters. At this point, all-cargo aircraft are not eligible for daytime slots, which are necessary to make their presence there viable.

JAL is targeting specific commodities for it Haneda traffic. Besides express and mail traffic, perishables are a key segment.

"We try to promote Haneda more to carry perishables," says Nagayasu, pointing to the proximity of a large flower market and Tokyo's appetite for imported fresh food. He adds that the cooler at the airport can accommodate full ULDs.

"A lot of perishables go to the city center, which opens up opportunities for a perishables service," Cerone says. He has also moved to establish trucking links to Osaka and Nagoya to connect to Air Canada's Haneda flights.

Transit traffic is a significant aspect of JAL's strategy at Haneda. With its strong domestic network in place there, it can execute fast connections between domestic and international departures. "We are focusing more on traffic to and from other parts of Japan like Kyushu or Hokkaido," Nagayasi says.

Asian destinations, which spearheaded the opening of Haneda to international flights four years ago, are another focus for operators serving the airport. "This opens markets like Singapoe, Bangkok and Taipei for us. Before we were very restricted. This gives us a lot of opportunities to work on the interline component," Cerone says.

DHL Global Forwarding is also using Haneda for intra-Asian traffic, particularly with flights that depart late at night to reach their destination early the following morning.

Slade is very upbeat on the airport. Over time, as more slots become available for international flights there, the advantages of Haneda vis-a-vis Narita – the proximity to downtown Tokyo, the absence of a curfew and four runways (versus two at Narita) – will push more and more cargo activities over there, he predicts, leading to a diminished role for the old international gateway.

“In five to 10 years, Narita will become the low-cost airport,” he says, adding that the pace of this development will be dictated by the rate at which Haneda allows more international flights. “It all depends on the slots. If they keep adding slots like they did this April, the shift will happen sooner.”

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