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Innovating and decongesting Japan’s airports

Expanding airport capacity in large metropolitan areas is difficult, and Japan is a case in point. Some 33 million people (26% of total) and 17 million (13% of total) live in Greater Tokyo and Greater Osaka respectively. According to some sources, Tokyo-Yokohama is the largest urban area in the world and Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto the 12th largest.

Little wonder therefore that secondary airports had to be built after the older airports, Haneda (built just 15 km as the crow flies from Tokyo central station in 1931) and Itami in Osaka, reached capacity and noisy irritants to local populations. As a result, strong public pressure required the newer airports, Narita and Kansai, to be built far from city centres. Narita was opened in 1978 despite local resistance from residents and environmental groups. Kansai ran into environmental issues too, and was finally built at high cost on reclaimed land in Osaka Bay some 47km by rail from the city’s central business district. Built with private and public funds, it opened in 1994 but did not become a fully-fledged international hub until 2007.

These new airports required extensive investment in surface transport links to their distant city centres. Experts argue that the transport links were poorly planned, and are costly and time-consuming to the traveller. Advocates, on the other hand, argue that the planning was as good as could be expected considering the tremendous urban growth and demand for air transport arose simultaneously; it was impossible to plan ahead of time. Currently, Tokyo’s two airports accommodate approximately 100 million passengers annually, comparable to airports in London and New York.

This discussion paper by the OECD and International Transport Forum discusses policies for future airport development in large urban areas, including open-ended “continuous improvement systems” to take advantage of improvements in aircraft and avionics technology. Stimulating competition among airports also serves as a catalyst to mobilise stakeholders to increase their airport’s capacity and improve spatial and capacity planning.

Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (2013), “Evolution of Metropolitan Airports in Japan: Air Development in Tokyo and Osaka”, OECD/ITF Joint Transport Research Centre Discussion Papers, No 2013/3, Paris Publishing. Available to read at www.oecd-ilibrary.org/transport/

Visit www.itf.org

See also www.oecd.org/japan

©OECD Observer No 298, Q1 2014