Big in Japan

Misao vodilja ovog posta je puko hvalisanje.

Izašao mi je članak u jednom od najbitnijih Tokijskih magazina na Engleskom jeziku po imenu Metropolis magazine. Zvanično i prve pare koje sam perom, bolje rečeno tastaturom, zaradio.

Tema - avijacija, šta drugo. Ko je dobar sa Engleskim, neka sam pročita i prevede ostalima. Sve je dostupno još neko vrijeme na njihovoj stranici, link je ovdje, ali pošto će novi broj brzo i moj članak leti sa tog linka, ja sam kopirao sve u ovaj okvir ispod.


Last Word
By Radovan Pavlić

The sky should not be the limit

Japan’s protectionist attitude toward its airline industry is wasteful and misguided

Have you ever wondered why you can’t get a flight out of Tokyo for a couple of thousand yen on the Japanese equivalent of a JetBlue or RyanAir? Or why the most expensive part of any picturesque Asian trip is actually leaving Japan? Or why JAL and ANA have such a strong grip over domestic air travel—with the exception of a few routes served by airlines deceivingly proclaiming themselves as “low-cost carriers”? I know I have.

When I first moved to Japan, I was thrilled at the prospect of roaming across Asia on weekends on low-cost flights. Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, India—destinations were popping out from every show on the Discovery Channel. Yet this bubble burst shortly after arrival, when I realized there are no discount airlines in Japan and no low-cost Asian carrier has access to Tokyo. The whole thing smelled of protectionism.

As I investigated the issue, I kept coming across the same excuse dragged through the media and embedded in all governmental press releases. “Tokyo airports have no free slots for any new airline!” (In aviation talk, a slot refers to a carrier’s right to operate a flight to an airport.)

I’ve never been satisfied with short explanations for what must be a complex issue, so I decided to give the surface a scratch. Here’s my two yen on it.

It’s true that Tokyo’s two airports are crowded; as you read this, airlines from 37 nations are queuing for access rights. A raw comparison of Tokyo and New York City, two cities with comparable economies, shows an interesting discrepancy: Tokyo has two airports with a total of five runways, while NYC has three major airports and nine runways serving a population that’s just 60 percent of Tokyo’s.

So the claim that there is no free runway space holds water, but is the government doing anything to solve the issue? Public opinion says “Yes,” and to be sure, a new, 2,500m-long runway will be constructed at Haneda on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay by 2009. Narita, too, will extend its shorter runway by some 320 meters and reconstruct its taxiway system by 2010. When completed, these improvements will increase the number of Tokyo-bound flights by 164 a day. The added runway space, though not a complete solution, should open up the airports to increased competition from low-cost carriers based overseas.

Personally, I doubt that adding less than 3km of tarmac is adequate. But there is an answer, which becomes obvious once you start thinking out of the NHK-served box. Greater Tokyo has nine air force bases—that’s right, nine! Certainly, a few of them could be converted to secondary airports for low-cost operations, or at least adapted to dual civilian and military use. In fact, Hyakuri JASDF base is to be converted into Ibaraki Airport by 2009, and it’s thought that 2 million people will find it more convenient to fly there than Tokyo. This, along with a brand new airport to be constructed in Shizuoka around the same time, should loosen the pressure on Tokyo traffic. But these are just tweaks when groundbreaking change is needed.

The real solution has a name: Yokota. The idea of adapting the US Air Force Base to civilian use is old news—it was initially floated by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara in 1999, and in 2003 former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and US President George W. Bush talked about it. Amazingly, the American side was willing to cooperate and let the base be used for civilian flights. The most important result of this would be to ease the pressure on local airspace, which now dictates that planes flying into Tokyo take a mazy (read: costly) approach pattern. A study was ordered to analyze the issue, but nothing noteworthy has happened since.

It’s evident that the Japanese government is protecting the market for JAL, which has a “low-cost” subsidiary named Jalways, and ANA, which has announced that it will also establish a discount carrier to counter the Asian budget airlines that are vying to take a bite out of its lucrative pie. Japan’s extensive shinkansen network already puts intense pressure on both airlines, but the government should be aware that erecting a fence around its own backyard is not a good way of doing business. Such a sterile environment can only weaken the enterprise and make it unprepared to confront new challenges.

Of course, paying for this whole corporate swindle is, as usual, the sheepish Japanese traveler, and waking up the Japanese public to the issue won’t be easy. If nothing else, my backpack and I will be ready in 2009 when ANA and JAL finally start to get knocked off their duopolistic pedestal.

Radovan Pavlić is an aviation specialist and freelance writer working in Tokyo.

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