Japan and China are at loggerheads over expanding flights between the two countries, in a battle that could take until the end of the year to resolve.

The route between China and Japan is one of the most lucrative for Japanese carriers, as it carries a high proportion of business travellers. Both Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, Japan's two leading carriers, have greatly expanded their flight schedules between the two countries over the past few years.

The negotiations that broke down this week were centred on both countries obtaining more landing slots. Since the beginning of the year, China had been asking for more landing slots at Narita International Airport, located on the outskirts of Tokyo and the capital's main global gateway. But Narita is running at full capacity, and no new landing slot allocations can be made.

This week, China asked Japan to allocate slots at Haneda airport, Tokyo's domestic airport and that request was refused. A transport ministry official said: “If we opened up Haneda to China, then we would have to open it up to every other country”.

Meanwhile, a third runway opened at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport in March, and Japan asked for more landing slots. China has refused to allocate any new slots to Japan until it is allowed to fly more frequently into Tokyo, according to a transport ministry official.

The move directly affects ANA, which had been planning to increase its flights between Nagoya and Shanghai to seven days a week from a current four. “We hope this matter is dealt with swiftly,” said an ANA spokesman.

Currently, the China-Japan route is the second-most travelled by Japanese airlines, following US-Japan routes. “Japanese carriers are making money on China routes, as business traffic is healthy despite the recent problems,” said a JAL spokesman. “This is the growth market and we are keen to expand.”

The Shanghai-Narita route is one of the most profitable for Japanese airlines, as it carries a high proportion of business travelers.

A transport ministry official indicated that further negotiations may not be held until August or September. “The only way out of this chaotic situation is for the Chinese to give up on the idea of gaining additional slots at Narita, or for us to radically change our policy by opening up Haneda,” he said.

Currently, there is only one international charter flight a day to South Korea that is operated from Haneda, though many have called for the airport - which is only about 20 minutes from downtown Tokyo - to allow for more international flights.

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