Chinese Airlines Operate Over 1,000 Flights a Week to Japan, Overtake Korean Ones for Top Spot

Citing a government-related source, Kyodo reported today that since the 2019 winter schedule came into effect on October 27, 2019, Chinese airlines have the largest presence of all the foreign airlines operating to Japan.

In total, there are now more than 1,000 weekly frequencies between the two countries operated by non-Japanese airlines.

Chinese Airlines Operate Over 1,000 Flights a Week to Japan, Overtake South Korean Ones for Top Spot
Chinese airlines operate to Japan more than 1,000 times a week.

Chinese Airlines’ Increasing Presence in Japan

According to the report, the number has increased by 230 weekly rotations compared to the 2019 summer schedule and crossed the 1,000 mark for the first time ever.

With 1,130 weekly rotations starting from October 27, 2019, China has overtaken South Korea and become the country with the highest number of flights to Japan operated by non-Japanese airlines. The last time that China held that distinction was a decade ago, when the 2009 summer schedule was in place.

Chinese Airlines in Japan
Over the last year or two, the presence of Chinese airlines in Japan has increased significantly.

Arguably, the main reason behind the increase is increasing presence of Chinese airlines at Osaka Kansai airport. In 2019 winter schedule, the airport is serviced by 453 flights from China per week, 107 more than when the 2019 summer schedule was in effect.

While the numbers include both Chinese as well as Japanese airlines, the increase was largely driven by the former.

Chinese Airlines at Kansai Airport
More and more Chinese airlines are serving Kansai airport from more and more cities.

Other major airports including Nagoya Centrair, Sapporo, and Tokyo Narita saw an increase as well. In Narita’s case, slot restrictions for Chinese airlines operating to the airport were eased from a maximum of 99 weekly rotations in the 2019 summer schedule to 210 rotations in the 2019 winter schedule.

Finally, smaller Japanese airports like Shizuoka and Komatsu saw an increase in services from China as well. Shizuoka, just as an example, is connected with six Chinese cities with the seventh one – Lianyungang – expecting to join the network later this month.

Chinese Airlines at Shizuoka Airport
China Eastern has a significant presence at Shizuoka airport.

The last example, perhaps, illustrates the situation the best.

While routes between large cities like Beijing and Shanghai are already well-covered by both Chinese and Japanese airlines, there are many relatively smaller and lesser-known – but still quite populous – cities like Lianyungang that drive the growth.

There are about 100 cities with a population of more than a million – and almost a third of those has a population of almost or more than three million. That combined with the still growing appetite for overseas travel of the Chinese are likely to provide some future growth.

Narita airport is already preparing for that with plans to gradually increase the number of weekly slot pairs available between Narita and China to Chinese airlines all the way to 400 in March 2021.

Haneda airport will see an increase in traffic from China as well once the newly available daytime slots come into effect in March 2020.

Chinese Airlines at Haneda Airport
Starting from March 2020, more slots between China and Tokyo Haneda will be available.

Summary

A decrease in the number of flights between Japan and South Korea due to the ongoing political dispute is part of the reason for China taking over the top spot. However, that alone would not have been enough to cause the sheer increase in the number of flights operated by Chinese airlines to Japan.

For that, the still growing demand of Chinese travelers to visit Japan as well as the large number of relatively small, lesser-known but still very populous cities are the key drivers.

The recent increase provides a big boost to the Japanese tourism industry – including the duty-free shops at Japanese airports (as much as 72% of duty-free spending at Kansai airport is done by the Chinese).

At the same time, it remains to be seen how long the growth of China – Japan routes will last – and whether or when the numbers will start decreasing. A potential slowdown in tourism from China could prove challenging especially for an airport like Kansai at which almost a third of international passengers hails from China.

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