Fears over radiation exposure complicate Japan's air transport recovery

By ATWOnline Staff | March 16, 2011

Momentum in the air transport operational recovery in Tokyo following last week's devastating earthquake and tsunami could be difficult to maintain in the face of growing fears overradiation exposure from unstable nuclear reactors.

Tokyo Narita and Haneda reported no major damage from the quake and flights to/from the airports were mostly operating normally Monday (ATW Daily News, March 15). But airlines on Tuesday started announcing new flight adjustments as the situation at the Fukushima nuclear facility worsened.

Lufthansa said all NRT-bound flights would be diverted to Osaka Kansai and Nagoya until at least Sunday. Air China said it was limiting flights from Beijing and Shanghai to NRT while EVAAir said it was canceling all flights to Tokyo and Sapporo for the remainder of March. FedEx announced Monday it would stop accepting NRT-bound shipments indefinitely 

Most European airlines continued operations to the Japanese capital, although many scheduled the routing to avoid crew changes in Tokyo. Austrian Airlines said it was rescheduling its Vienna-NRT flights to a late evening departure and may cancel them altogether if the situation worsens. Both LH and OS said they are monitoring radiation levels on their aircraft. Air France is now operating its twice-daily Paris Charles de Gaulle-NRT flights via Seoul Incheon whileKLM is operating its service from Amsterdam to NRT via KIX.Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan warned Tuesday that there is "still a very high risk of further radioactive material escaping" from damaged nuclear reactors in northeast Japan. The country has imposed a no-fly zone for civil aircraft in an 18.-mi. radius over the troubled Fukushima power plant. The Malaysian government said it is testing international passengers and baggage entering Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kuching and Kota Kinabula airports for radiation contamination.

Boeing told ATW it has relocated its 200 employees from its Utsunomiya office, approximately 60 miles from the Fukushima power plant, to Nagoya. "We have accounted for all of our people. All are safe and we have had no reports of serious injury. At this time we are not planning to evacuate our people from Japan," a company spokesperson said.

So far much of the activity at NRT and HND has been focused on moving passengers out of Japan. Reports from Tokyo describe full outbound flights and passengers gathering at the airports hours before scheduled departures. NRT said nearly 1,100 passengers were still stranded in its passenger terminals as of Monday. AF introduced a one-way fare starting at €700 ($977) for passengers leaving Tokyo or Osaka.

Derek Sadubin, a senior analyst with the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation, said air travel to and from Japan is likely to be severely disrupted with changes in traffic flows possible.

"Japanese tourists make up 25% of the Hawaiian market and 16% of the Australian market and in the short-term trips are being canceled," he explained. He noted that one complicating factoris that the Japanese have generally chosen not to travel in the aftermath of previous disasters out of respect for the victims. He said airlines could offer bargain-fares in a scramble to fill seats. The outbound Japanese air travel market is estimated at over 30 million passengers annually.

Most airlines said service to Tokyo would remain on schedule while the situation is carefully monitored. Japan Airlines said all flights to Sendai are canceled until at least March 26 but added it will operate 32 extra flights Wednesday to help move people and supplies to the most hard-hit areas. It will operate some flights to Hanamaki Airport, which is now reopened.

Scheduled flights to the affected region will be operated with larger aircraft, JAL said.

Included in the 32 added flights will be two between HND and Yamagata.






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