Osaka’s Kansai at lower passenger levels than in the 1990’s; now signs of recovery from recent downturn

Is there anything more Japanese than quirky adaptations of Western culture? Kansai International Airport recently hosted the wonderful Japan Pop Culture Festival and were glad to share these photos with us.

Kansai International Airport replaced Osaka International Airport (which now, in spite of its name, only offers domestic services) as the international airport serving the 2.6-million city of Osaka and surroundings when it was completed in 1994. An interesting aspect of the airport is its location on a purpose-built artificial island in Osaka Bay, four kilometres off the coast. The airport island is connected to the mainland across a bridge that allows both road and train access. The initial problems surrounding the island sinking rapidly have now improved and in August 2007, a second runway – Runway B – was opened for traffic on an expansion of the island.

Chart: Traffic at Kansai
Source: KIAC

The Kobe earthquake in early 1995 did not affect the airport structure, as precautions had been taken for it to resist natural phenomena common to the area. The passenger numbers were, however, noticeably lower that year, the airport’s first year of operation.
Other dips have occurred after 9/11 and then SARS in 2003 and the passenger numbers still have not recovered to the levels experienced in the late 90s and the year 2000. The domestic passenger numbers in 2008 are down 28% on the level in 2000, while the international traffic has fallen by 19% during the same period.

Recovering trend as of this summer

Chart: Seasonality
Source: KIAC

In recent years, the monthly passenger numbers at Kansai have been relatively constant throughout the year, with peaks in March and August. As of last autumn, the financial crisis that has hit Japan is to be seen in the passenger numbers. The outbreak of swine flu has not helped the passenger numbers either. Although numbers still are down from previous years, a recovery can be seen since June this year. Whereas the passenger numbers in June 2009 were 34% lower than June 2008, the September figures are only down 7% on the previous year.

Chart: Top 12 airlines
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 December 2009

The largest airlines at Kansai are the two main Japanese carriers, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Should the JAL subsidiary JALways be counted as part of JAL, the airline’s lead would be even greater. The only other Japanese carrier on the list is the low-cost carrier StarFlyer, which offers four daily flights to Tokyo Haneda. Notably, Northwest Airlines is the only non-Asian carrier to make the top 12 with its route offering of daily flights to Guam, Honolulu and its hub at Tokyo Narita.

Domestic flights a third of frequencies; nearly as many new routes launched as suspended in the last year

Country market Weekly frequency (share of total)
Japan 273 (33%)
China 160 (19%)
South Korea 134 (16%)
Taiwan 35 (4%)
Hong Kong 31 (4%)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 December 2009

The long-haul network to the east is restricted to flights to Honolulu (JAL and Northwest) and San Francisco (United), while Gold Coast (Jetstar) and Auckland (Air New Zealand) are served to the south. The selection of non-stop, westward long-haul flights is greater. Kansai is served by Air France,  Alitalia, Egyptair, Emirates, Finnair, KLM, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines from their respective hubs in Europe and the Middle East.

JAL used to serve London Heathrow until March this year. The airport has seen a further 12 routes suspended in the last year, all domestic and inter-Asian flights. In the same time period, has, however, reported on 11 new routes being launched to and from Kansai, including this week’s launch of flights to Seoul Gimpo on Jeju Air.

This morning, Jeju Air started flying to Kansai from Seoul Gimpo airport, one of eleven new routes launched at Kansai in the last year.


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