Why Does Tokyo Have Two Airports?

If you’ve ever searched for flights to Tokyo, you may have noticed an interesting fact: the city boasts two major airports. While this is not uncommon for many large cities, Tokyo’s two airports both attract services from airlines around the world. Let’s find out why the city has two airports.

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The story of Tokyo’s two airports is similar and different to other major cities. Photo: Getty Images

Out of space

Prior to 1978, the Japanese capital only had one airport, Tokyo International Airport (now Haneda). The airport opened in the 1930s as an airfield before it became an international airport in 1952. Located in the densely populated Ōta City, in the heart of Tokyo, the airport provides ideal access to the city center.

However, as years passed, larger jet aircraft resulted in noise complaints and limited slots at Haneda. The government knew it would need a larger airport to serve the city’s growing demand, but seeing Tokyo’s population density, a major expansion of Haneda was impossible.

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Tokyo Haneda’s location allows for easy connectivity but prevents a significant expansion. Photo: Pyzhou via Wikimedia Commons

The government got to work on the new airport, Narita, in 1966, placing it in Chiba prefecture (technically outside Tokyo). After years of protests due to the decision to nationalize land for the airport, construction was finally completed in 1978. This gave Tokyo its second major airport, allowing for far more international capacity and room for further development.

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Soon after Narita opened, nearly all international airlines moved to the larger airport. While the airport originally had plans for five runways, it only constructed three due to the threat of more protests. This lack of expansion meant Narita was handling 22 million passengers in 1991 despite only having a capacity of 13 million.

However, something interesting happened in 1983. Using a landfill in Tokyo Bay, Haneda Airport had the opportunity to expand further. By 2010, the “old airport” had new runways and two new terminals, allowing for a scaling up of services. Considering Haneda’s key location just half an hour from the city center, airlines were happy to add services.

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Narita is located nearly 1.5 hours away from the Tokyo city center, making it inconvenient for many travelers. Photo: Getty Images

By the early 2000s, Narita had established itself as the main international airport for Tokyo, attracting most intercontinental services and major airlines. Meanwhile, Haneda made itself known as a key regional and domestic airport, with JAL and ANA having a significant presence at there, alongside carriers like Korean Air and Singapore Airlines.

Migration

Interestingly, the last few years has seen a migration of airlines from Narita to Haneda. Airlines like Delta (which moved all its flights to Haneda), United, and SAS, all added or shifted services. Even home carriers JAL and ANA started new flights from Haneda to the US. The new terminal and location, along with slot availability, made Haneda quite attractive for airlines.

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Delta moved over all its services from Narita to Haneda. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Tokyo has two major airports because of the large amount of yearly traffic the city sees. Both Narita and Haneda offer their strategic advantages, allowing them to rise as major international hubs.

Have you been to either or both of Tokyo’s airports? Which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!

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