The current situation for the world and particularly for the airline industry has changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From a very positive outlook with the Olympics, the pandemic has now resulted in an overall reduction in demand for travel of up to 90% and up to 98% in certain areas. Airlines are faced with severe liquidity challenges with enormous pressure to reduce costs. In addition, new passenger and crew safety measures have been adopted to protect health. Many airlines have turned to their governments for financial support in order to weather the crisis.
Therefore, radical measures are required. Governments, including the Japanese Government, must do its utmost to provide a framework for the airline industry to survive the current situation. Actions could be, while not limited to: changing or interpreting the regulations so that airlines do not lose slots due to not being temporarily able to use them, facilitate the change from passenger traffic to freight traffic, improving the situation for freight transportation at Haneda Airport, work together with the airline industry to come up with good and practical guidelines how to deal with airplane crews that arrive in Japan. These measures must be presented and implemented promptly. The EBC is committed to work together with the other industry organisations and the Japanese authorities to make the best of the situation.
New health screening for arriving passengers, while understandable, has been implemented which lengthens the arrival processing times. In addition, airlines have been given restrictions of passenger loads for inbound flights alleviate bottlenecks at arrivals. Continued restrictions of this nature will reduce the economic viability of flights and could slow down the re-introduction of capacity. This will slow access to Japan by business people and other segments of passengers.
Looking beyond the Coronavirus situation, the EBC recognises and appreciated that MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism) and Ministry of Justice have implemented to facilitate the increased passenger traffic to Japan. With allocated slots to European airlines through better access to Haneda (HND), and through increases passport control officials at the airports. We also appreciate the engaging approach by the Narita Airport officials who are listening to and working closely with the airline industry. The EBC hopes that this can serve as a blueprint for all airports.
Airport fees, particularly in Tokyo continue to be high in comparison to regional competitors in Asia which is also an issue when airlines evaluate expansion. Higher fees were recently introduced for HND. The recent agreement concluded between IATA (International Air Transport Association) and Narita Airport (NRT) is satisfactory in that fees remain status quo, but there continues to be unusual charges such as a parking fee structure which does not conform to international norms. The EBC recommends refraining from any increase in airport related fees. In addition, the cost of the continued improvement of security needs to continue to be borne by airport operators and government.
The EBC has continued concerns about the implementation of the Tourism Tax. The collection process burdens airlines. In addition, there is no transparency as to the usage of the resulting funds. EBC advocates the use of the funds to benefit the transportation infrastructure. In addition, the current data requirements set up by the Japanese authorities and how to deliver the data are unclear and European airlines may not be in the position to deliver this requested data due to strict EU data protection law. This needs to be urgently reviewed.
European airlines have taken numerous measures to lessen their impact on the environment, including the purchase of new fuel- and noise-efficient aircraft, more efficient navigation technology, and bio-fuel testing. It follows that the EBC fully supports the opening of new approach and departure patterns at HND in order to reduce fuel consumption and increase cost efficiency. In line with this, the EBC recommends abolishing the early “gear down” policy at NRT, which unnecessarily increases not only fuel usage, but also noise for local residents.
To end on a positive note, Japan has shown that is has the potential for increase passenger traffic, especially with more tourism, and increased trade leading to more business passengers. We believe that once the Coronavirus situation has improved that there is no reason that Japan will not return to the pre-Coronavirus status. However, it is important that the Japanese Government works together with the airline industry to make this possible.