The Yomiuri Shimbun Efforts are under way to transform Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture into a hub for transporting air cargo between Japan and other parts of Asia.
Naha Airport has the advantage of being located close to Southeast Asian countries and coastal regions of China, as well as round-the-clock customs procedures that allow for drastically reduced transit times.
ANA Holdings Inc. paved the way to make Naha Airport a major transportation center when it began using it as a transshipment base for air cargo in 2009.
Compared to conventional direct flight routes connecting two locations, “The length of time from sender to recipient was shortened, and efficiency levels rose drastically,” a company source said.
The government subsequently designated Naha Airport and surrounding areas as a special economic zone for international cargo transportation, offering preferential tax treatment and low-interest loans in an effort to encourage companies to enter the business.
Currently, ANA operates near-daily flights connecting Naha Airport with four other airfields in Japan and nine overseas airports including those in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Cargo is brought to Naha Airport from locations nationwide in the late-night hours, sorted based on destination and then loaded onto cargo flights that depart for the final destination early in the morning.
Final destinations all fall within a four- to five-hour flight from Naha Airport. Some services deliver seafood caught in the ocean east of Japan to stores in Hong Kong, Singapore and other locations the following day.
Denichiro Ishimine, head of the Naha Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said, “Within a distance of four hours [from Okinawa Prefecture] are China, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries — a huge market with a population of 2 billion. Specialty products across Japan can be exported to Asia while still fresh.”
Around Naha Airport, huge cargo-handling warehouses have been built. Services for shipping machine parts and food stored in the facilities to various locations in Asia are being developed.
A medium-size equipment manufacturer based in the Kanto region has been using one of the warehouse facilities since 2013. The company has delivered about 130,000 parts used for repairing machines that handle banknotes to clients overseas on the day after receiving the order, at the earliest.
The volume of international cargo handled by Naha Airport shot up from about 20,000 tons in 2009 to 176,000 tons in 2016. Naha Airport has grown to be Japan’s fourth-largest handler of international cargo. The volume at Haneda Airport was about 430,000 tons in 2016.
Along with the planned opening of a second runway at Naha Airport in 2020, the annual number of arrivals and departures is expected to rise to 185,000, or a 1.4-fold increase from the current level. The volume of cargo handled by Naha Airport is also expected to continue to increase.
However, the volume of cargo handled at Hong Kong International Airport and South Korea’s Incheon Airport remains larger, as the two airports have many direct flights to various locations in Asia.