Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Japan's Global Hub - Poised to be Eclipsed

Writing from Numazu, Japan

If there's a lesson for Narita International Airport in the recent jump by Qantas from Singapore to Dubai, it is this: Don't take anything for granted. Rather than continue to let Emirates eat its lunch, Qantas boss Alan Joyce is doing business with Emirates. (I'm not going to get into it here, because I already did here.)

But I was reminded of Joyce's decision to take some of his wide bodies from one airport and fly them from another as I sat at Narita's Museum of Aeronautical Science just beyond runway 16R/34L on Saturday, thrilling to the sight of jumbo jets taking off. From Finnair to Sri Lankan I watched a parade of flags and colors from every corner of the world. But just because they're all coming here now, doesn't mean it always will be so.

In a speech today to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, International Air Transportation Association chief Tony Tyler laid out some numbers that suggest the country's airports will lose business to other global aviation hubs if it doesn't cut airport fees and make it easier for people to travel here.

"If we look at overall price competitiveness, Japan ranked at 137 out of 139 countries—almost dead last," Tyler said. Comparing Japan to the airports nearby, Tyler pointed out that Hong Kong, with one fifth the population of Japan handled half of the number of travelers. In Korea, Tyler said aviation has twice as much of an impact on the economy as in Japan.

I can't say if Tyler's numbers are right.  People start talking economics and my head begins to spin. But I know - there is no doubt - that everything in international aviation previously considered "a given" is no longer.  The world is changing at jet speed and the opportunists have taken wing.

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