Virgin Australia has signaled its intention to start services to Japan and make an application for one of two new slots available to Aussie airlines at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
But there’s a problem: bigger rival Qantas has already put in a bid for both daily services.
Virgin, which plans to submit an application soon to the International Air Services Commission, said its success would “ensure competition in this market to bring choice and value for consumers, with lower airfares and more travel options to Japan”.
“Japan is a very strong and important market for both inbound and outbound travel to Australia, with travel volumes growing by almost 50 percent since 2015,’’ Virgin said in a statement.
“Haneda Airport, in particular, is a popular entry point into Japan because of its convenience and close proximity to Tokyo City.”
Virgin is reviewing and restructuring its operations and said it was focussed on investing in the right, commercially profitable routes.
Introducing Japan to its network would “benefit the business, passengers and the broader tourism industry”, it added.
International routes currently operated by Australia’s second-biggest airline include Hong Kong, Los Angeles and destinations in New Zealand and the South Pacific.
It has recently moved to deepen its relationship with Virgin Atlantic and work with it on services between the UK/Ireland.
The Japanese government sparked a gold rush among international airlines by making 50 additional slot pairings available at Haneda from the end of March 2020, to be split among Japanese and foreign carriers.
Australia and Japan had agreed to allocate two slot pairs for services between the two countries from March 29, 2020.
The Qantas submission for both daily return services argued its success would benefit the public through a positive impact on competition, tourism and trade.
It proposed daytime Haneda services that would provide direct access between Melbourne and Haneda for the first time, a city pair it noted was not currently served by other carriers.
The additional service would introduce a second frequency between Sydney and Haneda.
The submission described Qantas was the only “no risk” option to meet the requirement for the allocation and noted the carrier had been serving the Japan route for more than 70 years.
“In addition to having operational capability and certainty to commence both additional Haneda services from the commencement of the IATA northern summer scheduling season (NS20), Qantas is the only Australian carrier to have the necessary brand, sales and distribution, network, marketing presence and regulatory approvals to support these additional services in a long-term and sustainable manner,’’ it said
“ Accordingly, and consistent with the primary objective of the Act, allocation of the two additional Haneda frequencies to Qantas would ensure there is no risk of the capacity not being fully utilized in the required timeframe and would promote effective competition by Australian carriers on one of the country’s most mature but complex travel markets.”