Air Travel News
Nuclear worries still hindering travel to Japan
More than two weeks after a massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis hit Japan, conflicting information about radiation dangers and worries about infrastructure problems are still keeping thousands of travelers from going there, and some airline service is being cut as a result. Bloomberg News cited a Tokyo airports official as saying the number of foreign nationals arriving at Tokyo Narita, the country’s main international gateway, is down almost 60 percent since the disaster struck. The U.S. State Department, in an updated travel advisory last week, was still urging Americans to avoid unnecessary travel to Japan for now. State also said it was distributing potassium iodide tablets to its employees and their dependents in several regions of Japan, including greater Tokyo, as protection against potential radiation increases if they should occur. There was one report last week that Tokyo’s water supply showed increased radiation, but a day later that warning was rescinded. “There are numerous factors, including weather, wind direction and speed, as well as the exact status of the reactor problem, that affect the risk of the possibility of lower-level radioactive materials reaching greater distances” from the stricken nuclear plant, State said.
Delta Air Lines has suspended its new service from Los Angeles and Detroit to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, and said it expects to reduce overall capacity to Japan by 15 to 20 percent through the end of May. Delta noted it continues to maintain normal operations at Tokyo Narita, Kansai and Chibu. Delta said it has been “assured by all of our experts that there is currently no health risk to our flights into and out of Japan.” Singapore Airlines this week is cutting its schedule between Singapore and Haneda in half. But an American Airlines official said last week that American plans to proceed with the planned April 1 launch of its newly approved transpacific joint venture with Japan Airlines, and that both carriers continue to operate their regular schedules. And some European carriers are resuming flights this week into Narita – e.g., Lufthansa, which last week had shifted its Japan service from Narita to Osaka and Nagoya.
The International Air Transport Association, a trade group of the world’s airlines, said it is “too early to assess the long-term impact” of the Japan crisis on aviation, but it noted that Japan accounts for 6.5 percent of worldwide scheduled traffic and 10 percent of airline industry revenues. “A major slowdown in (travel to) Japan is expected in the short term. And the fortunes of the industry will likely not improve until the effect of a reconstruction rebound is felt in the second half of the year,” IATA said.
Meanwhile, a joint statement last week from five global organizations – the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Maritime Organization, World Health Organization and World Meteorological Organization – said that air transport to and from Japan remains safe and is not restricted in any way as a result of the disaster.