A Japanese air carrier said Wednesday it will start commercial flight service between Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and Tokyo beginning in 2012.
All Nippon Airways signed an agreement with the Japanese government committing to four round-trip flights per day between the U.S. base and Haneda Airport.
Flight times are not yet decided, according to the airline. A new civilian terminal is slated to be built within the next two years at the Marine Corps base to handle the flights.
The service, which has been discussed for years, would connect the remote Iwakuni base with one of the world’s busiest air hubs. Travelers could then take a short bus or train ride to the larger Narita International Airport for overseas flights.
For now, air station residents must travel hours to regional airports or catch the Patriot Express, a military service with limited flights to some Pacific bases and Seattle.
“With a large industrial complex nearby and sightseeing spots such as the Kintai Bridge and Miyajima, we believe demand (for air service) is great and that our service will improve convenience for Iwakuni,” ANA spokesman Yoshifumi Miyake said.
Up to 430,000 people could use a commercial terminal at the air station each year, according to estimates by the Iwakuni city government.
The Marine Corps said it was not involved in the agreement but believed the service could be a benefit.
“Having ANA flights coming here is a huge quality-of-life issue for our folks,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Cordero, a spokesman for the base. “It gives another travel option that they didn’t have before.”
Commercial flight service at the air station was part of a larger agreement between the United States and Japan to shift U.S. forces in the country by 2014. Under the plan, the air station will also become home to a carrier air wing moved from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan.
Construction of the commercial terminal could begin as early as April, according to Iwakuni city officials.
“The budget for the terminal facility, apron and taxiway has been already appropriated by the Ministry of Transport,” said Atsushi Harada, chief of the city Commercial Airport Promoting Office.
Both governments said they will hash out the logistics of hosting commercial flights including security, traffic, baggage checks and parking.
Iwakuni last hosted regular commercial service in the 1950s and ’60s, and some commercial flights have used the base runway in recent years.
The service would not be unique in the region. U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan share a runway with a small commercial airport, and Kunsan Air Base in South Korea has a similar arrangement.