Japan opens regional airports to foreign airlines

Tokyo: In a major policy move, aimed at liberalising its air travel market, Japan has cleared the way for foreign airlines to operate directly from its regional airports. The move now makes it easier for discount Asian carriers to operate in Japan, where tight restrictions on routes, along with high costs, had so far discouraged entry to such players.

Apart from acting as a boon for low-cost airlines, the move will also promote Japan''s efforts to increase its links with other Asian countries. The move follows up on the successful example of South Korea, where a bilateral deal between the two countries encouraged South Korea''s Asiana Airlines to start several new routes to Japan, outside the main international hub at Narita.

Under the new guidelines, any foreign carrier will now be able to fly into the 23 Japanese regional airports that are capable of handling international flights, without first negotiating for landing rights through their governments. The airports include several important cities, such as Sapporo in the north and Fukuoka in the south.

Airlines would now receive permission to operate from such regional centres in a period of three to four months, as compared to a year, and more, earlier.

The move is also in line with broader moves within the ASEAN bloc to liberalise air travel within their jurisdiction.