Suppose you’ve ever searched for flights to Tokyo. In that case, 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 worldwide. Let’s find out why the city has two airports.
Out of space
Before 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, the airport provides ideal access to the city centre in Tokyo’s heart.
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. Still, seeing Tokyo’s population density, a significant expansion of Haneda was impossible.
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.
Soon after Narita opened, nearly all international airlines moved to the larger airport. While the airport initially 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 centre, airlines were happy to add services.
Narita is located nearly 1.5 hours away from the Tokyo city centre, making it inconvenient for many travellers. 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 critical regional and domestic airport. JAL and ANA have a significant presence there, alongside carriers like Korean Air and Singapore Airlines.
The Narita airport’s making helped the city divert most of its traffic, causing minor irritation for the people living in the area near Haneda airport. Still, both the airports are very significant to the city.