The reality of budget airlines operating no-frills services out of Japanese airports is coming on leaps and bounds -- which will delight travelers who want to visit a nation that has a reputation for being expensive to get to and a domestic tourism industry that is crying out for more visitors.
Two new budget airlines are forging ahead with plans to begin services, a Japanese airport has been recognized as the best low-cost facility in the Asia-Pacific region, work has begun on a dedicated budget airlines terminal close to Osaka and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner finally took to the skies on October 26, ushering in a new era in passenger aviation.
The Dreamliner, which made its debut in the livery of Japan's All Nippon Airways, makes use of vastly improved engine technology and is made of advanced composite materials that make it 20 percent more efficient than jets of a similar size.
ANA, which has 55 of the aircraft on order, believes the improvements will save it as much as Y10 billion (â¬91.48 million) a year, which should be passed on to consumers in the form of tickets that are at least no more expensive than present tariffs.
Even better news for travelers was the announcement on October 28 that AirAsia Japan Co. plans to start flights on three domestic routes from August and to international routes to South Korea in October of next year.
A joint venture between ANA and AirAsia Bhd., of Malaysia, the airline plans to fly Airbus 320s to Sapporo, Fukuoka and Okinawa from Tokyo's Narita International Airport, as well as to Incheon and Busan in South Korea.
Before that, Peach Aviation Ltd. -- Japan's first dedicated low-cost carrier -- will be airborne from Kansai International Airport, close to Osaka. The airline will link Japan's second city with Fukuoka and Sapporo from March 2012 and fly to Incheon, the gateway to the South Korean capital of Seoul, from May.
Both airlines have ambitions of expanding their operations, in much the same way as other airlines across the Asia-Pacific region have mimicked the arrival of low-cost carriers in Europe. Australia's Jetstar has been one of the first to make its presence known in the region, along with carriers such as Air Busan, Korea's Jeju Air, Cebu Pacific Air from the Philippines and AirAsia.
Encouraged by the strong growth in the budget sector, airports are developing new facilities.
Ibaraki Airport was recognized as the best low-cost airport by the Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation and applauded for its innovation and influence in the sector, while Kansai International started work on October 19 of a new terminal exclusively for this new breed of airlines.
The terminal is scheduled to be in operation in the second half of fiscal 2012 and will be the first of its kind in Japan -- although other airport operators are expected to very quickly grasp the business opportunities that it opens up.