Readers of detective novels might enjoy coincidences, but the business world generally does not. So among many Japanese in Tokyo yesterday, there was only one question on their lips: Why did Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways each launch non-stop flights to Tokyo on the same day? Was it a sign that the competition between the two companies was getting out of hand or was there a Japanese official with a wry sense of humour?
Kosapuro Morinaka, the chief executive of Narita Airport, said there was a simple explanation. The previous lack of service had been caused by a shortage of slots at the airport. "We have expanded the runways," he said. "Now there is room for more airlines to land." But Emirates had been negotiating since 1998 for permission to land in Tokyo. Richard Vaughan, the divisional senior vice president of Emirates, said the reason was down to reluctance on the Japanese side, which was resolved only by bilateral talks between the governments of Japan and the UAE.
"After lengthy discussions the Japanese gave us 10 slots, which have been shared between us and Etihad," he said. "We would like to have more, at least one a day, so we are hoping that the Japanese government will have the good grace to give us two extra flights. We will keep negotiating." And not to be outdone by Etihad and Emirates, Qatar Airways has also announced plans to launch flights to Tokyo by April 26. James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad, said the airline's venture into the Japanese capital was a "historic moment" and would prove fruitful for both business and tourism.
The airline will run five direct flights to Narita every week, as well as the service to Nagoya, which was launched last month. "Opening up the Abu Dhabi-to-Tokyo route is yet another important milestone that signifies the social, economic and cultural relationships that exist between the two," Mr Hogan said yesterday. Mr Hogan said he expected "a high volume of traffic" on the route, particularly business travellers, and that the company "looks for aircraft to be at least 75 per cent full across all routes".
Ahmed Hussein, the deputy director general of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the chief operating officer of the Tourism Development and Investment Company, said Abu Dhabi had a lot to offer the thousands of Japanese tourists it hoped to host this year. "The opening of this new route brings us into direct contact with a high potential tourism market," he said. "Last year, thousands of Japanese people visited Abu Dhabi and with the new route we are looking to significantly increase that figure. We have high hopes."
Referring to the competition between Emirates and Etihad, Mr Hogan said it was like the relationship between "Manchester City and Manchester United" football teams. "[We are] both great teams and respect each other, but when we play, we play to win," he said. Emirates, which celebrates its 25th birthday this year and whose first flight landed about five hours after its competitor, clearly sees itself more as the senior partner.
"We respect our competitors, Etihad and Qatar Airways, but we don't fear them," said Mr Vaughan. "We are experienced and we have a very good product that we shall develop further. Our network is superior to just about everybody's and not just those two. Etihad coming here also does not affect us one way or the other." Qatar Airways's expansion into Tokyo next month will be a daily service and become its second Japanese destination after Osaka. The new route coincides with promotional fares from Japan to 13 countries for travel between now and April 22.
"Tokyo is Japan's commercial and financial centre and has been on Qatar Airways's wish list of destinations for a number of years," said Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways. "It is only now that we are able to serve Tokyo due to new traffic rights and slot availability at the city's main Narita International Airport." The airline said this month its fleet had grown to 80 aircraft with the delivery of its 15th Boeing 777, double its size from five years ago.
It will increase its deliveries further beginning in 2012 when New Doha International Airport opens, and by 2013 the airline expects to have 120 aircraft. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com