As the Japanese islands elongate over several thousand kilometers, aviation is the country's primary mode of transportation for international travel and domestic long-hauls. The domestic aviation industry prospered during years of rapid economic growth. Since it waned, however, strengthening market mechanisms appeared necessary: airlines were deregulated and airports privatized. Yet, the current issue at hand is restoring revenues plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are Japan’s important airports?
As of April 2022, Japan has almost 100 airports, including 28 major airports and 54 regional airports. The control of the airports lies in the hands of either national or regional authorities, except for four company-administered international airports.
The fifth international airport is Tokyo International Airport, known as Haneda International. From 1978 until the inauguration of Terminal 3 in 2010, Haneda handled domestic flights only, whereas Narita International, the other major airport in the Greater Tokyo Area, handled primarily international flights. Haneda and Narita are Japan’s main hubs: they have the highest traffic among domestic airports, the most-flown routes start from Haneda, and most international flights arrive at Narita.
The market leaders of Japanese aviation: ANA and JAL
In the past, each flight route corresponded with a singular operation-permitting license granted by the authorities. Most of those licenses were in the hands of either Japan Airlines (JAL), All Nippon Airways (ANA), or Japan Air System (JAS).
Nowadays, market entry relies on permission for operations, and passenger fares only need to be notified to the authorities in advance. The deregulation allowed new carriers to enter the market, but it also resulted in numerous mergers and acquisitions, like that of JAL and JAS.
Despite various low-cost carriers (LCC) and small carriers appearing in the domestic market, many are ANA and JAL subsidiaries or have the two as major shareholders. Besides, the trend of liberalization has extended to airports and their operations. Since the implementation of reforms, the passenger load factor had improved, and traffic had increased - until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Impact of COVID-19 on Japanese aviation
Travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic have drastically impacted the revenues of airlines and airports. In particular, they have affected international operations, but domestic transportation has suffered as well, as travel is strongly discouraged during states of emergency. To limit economic ramifications, the Japanese Government has put together several stimulus packages totaling trillions of Japanese yen. Yet despite subsidies, tax reductions, and zero-interest loans, Japanese air carriers and airport companies will bear the weight of the pandemic for years beyond travel restrictions.
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