|TOKYO: Tokyo's second biggest airport Haneda opened a new runway and passenger terminal Thursday, making it a fully-fledged international airport and boosting Japan's capital as an Asian hub.|
The airport close to the city centre previously offered only domestic flights and some short-haul routes to East Asia, leaving it in the shadow of the larger Narita International Airport outside the capital.
Over the next few months, the new-look Haneda will launch new direct services to cities including London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Vancouver, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and Bangkok.
The fresh start for Haneda aims to boost Tokyo's position as a regional air travel hub to better compete with rivals such as South Korea's Incheon International Airport and Hong Kong International Airport.
Haneda is set to eventually handle 60,000 flights and over seven million passengers a year, according to its operator.
The Japanese government, looking for ways to boost the flagging economy, hopes the convenient hub will bring more Asian visitors to the country, which is seen as punching below its tourism potential.
"We strongly hope that the opening of international routes at Haneda will help to raise the number of visitors in Japan," said a transport ministry official at the opening ceremony.
The Japan Tourism Agency aims to almost quadruple the number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan to 3.9 million in 2013, and in July eased visa requirements to encourage this.
Haneda will also provide slots for more low-cost carriers as it aims to muscle into the dominant role of Narita, which has been the country's main gateway since it opened in 1978.
Haneda, now officially called Tokyo International Airport, is a 20-minute monorail ride from central Tokyo, while getting to Narita from downtown Tokyo by rail or bus takes one hour to 90 minutes.
Because Haneda also flies 48 domestic routes, it will allow Japanese holiday-makers to more easily transfer to new international flights to take weekend trips to popular destinations such as Hawaii.
Singapore Airlines CEO Chew Choon Seng said at Haneda: "The possibility of transiting with domestic lines is an important advantage".
Japan's two main carriers -- All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines -- look to use Haneda to their advantage as an imminent "Open Skies" agreement will liberalise travel between Japan and the United States.
But there has been concern among foreign carriers that flights can only leave for the United States and Europe between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am.
Industry players also complain that Japan is one of the world's most expensive places to land, with surcharges around 26,000 yen (320 dollars) per kilolitre of fuel, far above London's Heathrow or New York's JFK Airport.
Japanese low-cost carriers such as Skymark have been unable to offer the kind of heavily discounted fares associated with budget airlines in the United States and Europe due to high operating costs.
The first jet to land at Haneda's new fourth runway was an All Nippon Airways flight from Hong Kong with 202 passengers, who walked into the new terminal designed with red paper lanterns in a historic old-Tokyo style.