Narita Airport diversifies as COVID blocks demand for air travel

NARITA, Chiba Prefecture – No-go tours, wedding photos and a special craft beer are some of the ways Narita Airport, a key gateway to Japan, is trying to cope with the low demand for international flights.

The operating company expects people who have refrained from traveling abroad during the novel coronavirus pandemic to make connections to the airport in ways other than flights.

One morning in May, 36 people got off a double-decker bus on Runway A, the longest in the country at 4,000 meters, around 4:30 a.m.

Tour participants walked 500 meters on the runway, which was illuminated with aeronautical lights. Some posed for photos while lying on the strip.

The first flight of the day landed just after 6 a.m. and visitors watched from the side of the runway as planes land and take off.

“I’m happy that I was able to set foot in areas that are usually off-limits,” said a 38-year-old official from Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Her 8-year-old son, a second-grader in elementary school, watched in awe as the length of the trail ran.

Tour participants sit on a runway at Narita Airport to pose for a photo at dawn on May 21. (Yoshiko Aoyama)

The tour was the first of its kind since the airport opened in 1978. Only one out of 17 contestants won a place in the lottery.

“We felt there was a demand for fun in the airport itself, not just as a platform to catch flights,” said Toshitaka Asai, who heads the airport’s sales and marketing department. aviation of Narita International Airport Corp.

“We hope to leverage similar efforts to increase fan base at Narita Airport so that more people will use the airport when aviation demand recovers.”

The operating company began offering bus tours in restricted areas of the airport in December 2020.

While around 100 events were scheduled for the business year through March, 48 actually took place in part due to cancellations during a declared state of emergency due to a spike in cases. of COVID-19.

For the current fiscal year, the company plans to launch more of these projects, some with an aviation photographer present and others including visits to an airline hangar.

Sightseeing isn’t the only innovative sight on the Narita itinerary.

The “photo wedding” package, which started last year, offers a photo session next to an airplane.

Officials said he was well received by newlyweds who wanted to create their memories at the airport instead of having a traditional wedding ceremony or going on their honeymoon.

Thirty-three couples signed up for the package between September and December last year. Slots are up for grabs for October and November of this year.

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Baggage tag is used for Narita Airport Ale tag. The beer product can be enjoyed at an airport cafe. (Yoshiko Aoyama)

Narita Airport has also developed its own beer product with Choshi Cheers, a craft beer producer based in Choshi, Chiba Prefecture.

“Narita Airport Ale” uses hops that give off an aroma of white grapes. An olive oil produced in Chiba Prefecture is added as a finish, giving it a flavor similar to champagne.

The bottle comes with a luggage tag instead of a standard one, making it easy to recycle.

The suggested retail price is 770 yen ($5.39) per bottle, including tax.

The beer went on sale in a limited quantity of 520 bottles on May 20, marking the anniversary of the opening of Narita Airport, at airport shops and nearby restaurants.

After this batch was fully sold, full-fledged marketing began in July.

Online retail of stationary products that combine beer with other local products also began in August.

“We hope to revitalize both the airport and its surrounding community by working with local growers and restaurants,” an official said. “We intend to develop more alcoholic beverages and original products.”

Orders can be placed for Narita Airport Ale products and applications can be made for bus tours and wedding photos through the Japanese language website of Greenport Agency Co., a subsidiary of Narita International Airport Corp. (https://www.gpa-net.co.jp/ja/).

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