Japan's 'purchase' of Diaoyu Islands overshadows air travel

Updated: 2012-09-20 17:38


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BEIJING - Chinese and Japanese airlines have been hit hard with flights between the two countries being canceled as a result of Japan's illegal "purchase" of the Diaoyu Islands.

Airlines have reported a rise in intra-country flight cancellations amid growing tensions since the Japanese government announced its decision to "purchase" the Diaoyu Islands on Sept 10, fueling anti-Japan protests in dozens of Chinese cities.

On Wednesday, Japan Airlines, its country's biggest airline, made a modest return to the stock market after the biggest initial public offering this year since Facebook. Its share prices were weighed down by investor jitters over the Sino-Japan tensions and airline industry prospects amid sluggish global growth.

Japan Airlines said 5,250 Chinese tourists who were scheduled to visit the country between September and November have canceled their trips while 4,600 Japanese tourists called off their visits to China during the period.

Another Japanese carrier, the All Nippon Airways Co (ANA) reported around 3,800 seats from Japan and some 15,000 trips from China have been canceled through November.

An ANA spokesman said the cancellations were similar to the number canceled in 2010, when a collision between two Japanese Coast Guard patrol ships and a Chinese trawler in the East China Sea off the Diaoyu Islands led to escalating tensions.

The airline operates 21 air routes linking four airports in Japan, including Haneda airport and Narita airport in Tokyo, and 10 Chinese cities.

China's largest carrier, Air China, expected its average seat occupancy rate on Japan-bound flights to reach between 60 percent and 70 percent during the eight-day holiday starting from Sept 30, marketing department manager He Zhigang said.

However, Air China forecast the occupancy rate will fall to 40 percent after the holiday travel peak, He said.

The company has canceled 22 Japan-bound flights between Sept 26 and Oct 7, and is considering canceling flights from Hangzhou and Wuhan to Japanese cities if the occupancy rate remains low after the holiday, He said.

Also affected by the tensions, Spring Airlines, a Shanghai-based private budget airline, decided to cancel its 10 charter flights between Shanghai and Tottori prefecture in western Japan, which was scheduled to start this weekend, the company's spokesman Zhang Wu'an said.

Meanwhile, Juneyao Airlines, another Shanghai-based private-run airline, announced to delay Thursday's planned launch of a new route between Shanghai and Okinawa until November.

China's commerce ministry has criticised Japan's "purchase" move, saying it will certainly damage bilateral economic and trade ties.

"It is not what we wish to see, for which Japan should take full responsibility," the ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said at a regular press conference Wednesday.