Some days ago, I published a report about the first Jetstar Japan flight from Tokyo Narita to Shimojishima.
While the inaugural flight didn’t take me to a brand new airport, it took me to an airport that has been “reborn” thanks to a brand new terminal and resumed scheduled service after about a 25-year hiatus.
Now that you know what the flight was like, I’m going to take a closer look at the airport itself.
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A Brief History of Shimojishima Airport
The history of the airport goes back to the 1970s when construction of Shimojishima pilot training airfield was approved, and later – in 1979 – finished. The actual training of pilots on the island started in 1980.
祝 下地島空港開港 ジェットスター就航
— Hagetaka (@Hagetaka_1) March 30, 2019
In the same year, on November 1, 1980, Southwest Air Lines – not the US low-cost carrier, but the predecessor of JTA Japan TransOcean Air – launched scheduled flights from Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, to the island using NAMC YS-11 aircraft.
The airport’s sole scheduled route was discontinued in 1994 due to low load factors. While the airport received a charter flight here and there over the following couple of decades, it wasn’t until March 30, 2019, that scheduled flights to the island resumed – this time from Tokyo Narita airport.
During the period with no scheduled flights, the main way to access the island was by flying to Miyako airport located about 20 kilometers away and offering scheduled flights not only to other airports in Okinawa, but also to Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka.
In fact, until Shimojishima airport will be served by more airlines, Miyako airport will remain the main means of access to Shimojishima.
Destinations Served Out of Shimojishima
As mentioned above, Miyako airport which is served by ANA and JAL – and their subsidiaries – is the main way to access Shimojishima. That is because currently, Shimojishima airport is only served by Jetstar Japan’s single daily flight from Tokyo Narita.
That will soon change, though, as Jetstar Japan also plans to launch flights between Osaka Kansai and Shimojishima airports. The first flight is planned to operate on July 3, 2019, with the flight initially operating four times a week before switching to daily on July 19, 2019, for the duration of the school summer holiday. After that, it will revert back to four roundtrips a week.
What’s even more exciting is that the first international route to Shimojishima airport will launch soon after the Kansai route. As for the route, the Hong Kong-based low-cost carrier – HK Express – will start flights from Hong Kong on July 19, 2019. Currently, the flights are scheduled to operate three times a week.
A Tour of the New Terminal
Now that you know which airlines you can take to Shimojishima airport, let’s take a quick look around the airport’s new terminal which was built to support the new flights.
The new terminal was built over the last couple of years by Mitsubishi Estate with the tagline of “Your resort starts from the Airport.” And, they sure did deliver on that tagline – the design is open-air and feels fairly luxurious (in spite of the fact that the airport is currently only served by low-cost airlines).
There are a couple of parking spots right in front of the terminal, and so, passengers walk into the baggage claim area through a nice garden. As for the baggage claim, there are two belts allowing for two flights to arrive simultaneously.
The baggage claim area also offers excellent views of the departures side of the airport. That’s also where passengers get the first glance of the airport’s “resort-like” design.
From there, passengers exit into an open-air area where they can meet people picking them up or make their way to the car rental agencies or bus stop from (currently there is one daily roundtrip from Miyakojima that is timed with Jetstar’s arrival and departure times). The area is right next to the airport’s check-in and departure hall.
The centerpiece of the terminal – before security – is a seating area with a cafe and a store where passengers can buy local souvenirs and produce. Just like the terminal’s roof, the cafe and store are made out of wood and look very good.
Further down, there are about a dozen check-in desks that can be used for both domestic and international flights. And, there are also some automated check-in machines which feature image of Shimojishima airport’s famous runway 17 approach as their background image.
Across from the check-in desks, there’s a small security checkpoint, and clearing the security, one enters an open-air hallway leading to the departures lounge.
The departures lounge consists largely of four distinct areas.
The first of those is the main roofed part which features a lot of seating ranging from dining tables all the way to communal tables and sofas. I should note here that there are plenty of power and USB outlets in this area.
Besides that, the main area is also home to a restaurant, a cafe & bar, as well as a souvenir shop.
The second area of the departures lounge – and my favorite one – is an outdoor area with a pool (in which one cannot swim, unfortunately). This is the area that can be seen from the baggage claim area.
While mostly decorative, there is also some seating around the pool, and even a seating area with long benches that extends into the pool.
The third area is a small yard that serves as an observation “deck.” While in most places in the terminal, there is a wall preventing apron views, in this part, there are glass panels which allow passengers to see their aircraft arriving and being prepared for their flight.
The last part is the domestic gate area which has some benches for passengers to wait on, and a pair of departure gates. From there, departing passengers enter the apron – once again through a small garden – and board their flight.
Besides the above, there is also an international departures area which is currently in construction.
The area is quite small, and so, once in operation, I assume passengers will be expected to spend most of their waiting time in the main departures lounge that I talk about above, and only head through immigration into the international departures area shortly before their departure time.
From what I could see through the terminal’s windows, the international departures area will feature a duty free store and some seating. While I am not sure how many gates it will have, I assume it will be one or two – just like the domestic area.
At this point, Shimojishima airport is still a secondary gateway to the Miyako Islands with Miyako airport being the main gateway. In fact, it will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.
However, the airport is still important for the islands as it gives them a direct – and low-cost access – to Tokyo. And soon to Osaka and Hong Kong – and hopefully some more destinations – as well.
On top of that, the airport’s new terminal is beautiful, and so, if given the chance, I would pick it over the older Miyako airport any time.