A "group of four" composed of officials of the national government, the Narita International Airport Corporation, Chiba Prefecture and local government bodies convened on Sept 27 to discuss plans for construction of a third runway, to be 3,500 meters long, at Narita Airport. The participants also confirmed guidelines for the shortening of the late-night and early morning curfew hours currently in force, made possible by relaxation of noise restrictions. Currently arriving and departing flights are banned between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Once agreements are ironed out, plans are to reduce the time by three hours, from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.
Writing in Yukan Fuji (Oct 8), business pundit Kenichi Ohmae writes that the day's first arrival at Narita is usually from Australia, but the arrival time had to be adjusted to deal with the airport's curfew, making for wasted time at both ends of his journey.
Most of the world's major airports operate round the clock, and Narita's being hobbled by the curfew has caused it to lose out in the competition among Asia's regional hubs. Tokyo's Haneda Airport, by contrast, boasts four runways and operates on a 24-hour basis, making it Asia's top airport. And once flights directly over the city commence, Haneda will become even more convenient.
The decision back in the late 1960s to proceed with Narita rather than expand Haneda through land reclamation in Tokyo Bay was based on a study by a certain research group (Ohmae's not naming names) which found that building costs at Narita would be 5 billion yen cheaper. But when total costs are taken into account concerning the move from Haneda to Narita and various noise-abatement efforts, 5 billion yen is just a drop in the bucket.
Actually a similar situation existed in Kansai, since the old Itami Airport required planes to fly over residential areas. But travelers found that despite its round-the-clock operation, the new "floating" Kansai International Airport was inconveniently located, so Itami remained in use. Naturally after the new airport was completed at horrendous expense, the public was clamoring for someone in the former Ministry of Transport to blame it on. (Shades of the current flap over the Tsukiji fish market move!)
Ohmae accuses the airport operators of being "mushinkei" (insensitive). A prime example is Narita's inconveniently located third terminal, built to service travelers on LCCs (low-cost carriers). As it's not served by the rail lines that terminate in the airport's basement, access requires a long bus ride from Terminal 2 (or a half-kilometer hike). The dining facilities at Terminal 3 also seem to say, "If you blokes are so poor, this is all you get to eat." Is such a parsimonious approach really necessary?
As long as the people running Narita continue to display this kind of insensitivity, Ohmae sums up, it stands no chance of competing for international air travelers. Even, say, if flights from Australia are able to land an hour earlier, at 5 a.m. instead of 6 a.m., Narita's operators might as well be telling them, "The trains aren't running yet. Please start walking to your next destination."© Japan Today