Paul Dunn's 2010 blogGAR Entries

APR 04 2010
Tokyo Narita Airport

Narita is one of two main airports serving Japan’s capital city and handles most of the international traffic to the city. The airport is in fact fairly distant from the centre of Tokyo, and is not universally popular with the local population, but is still the arrival airport for the majority of visitors to Japan.

Much of the airport’s traffic is made up of long haul aircraft arriving from Europe and the US, along with other destinations in Asia. Most of the world’s largest airlines operate services into Narita, with a particularly strong presence from Delta Airlines – traditionally the routes from the US to Asia were dominated by Northwest Airlines, but with their recent merger with Delta, the latter carrier’s livery has replaced the NWA colours at Narita.

The airport recently made big changes to its operational procedures. There are two runways at Narita (16L/34R and 16R/34L) and they are parallel but well separated. Up until recently, both runways were used in “mixed-mode” operations, with take-offs and landings taking place on both runways. The longer of the two runways (16R/34L) tended to be used for most operations, especially for larger aircraft such as the 747 and 777-300 which used the runway for both take off and landing. The remaining aircraft were allocated runways depending on which terminal they were operating from.

This had recently changed, with all departures now using 16R/34L and most landing aircraft being allocated to 16L/34R. This has made it more difficult to view operations at the airport, as viewing facilities are much better for 16R/34L, but now there is considerably less traffic using the runway.

I have visited Narita Airport on a couple of occasions before, but mainly stayed in the area of the terminal buildings, but on this visit I decided to venture out towards the approach area. The first location I visited on my trip was the Sakura no Yama Park, located close to the threshold of 16R. This area is good for viewing aircraft taxying towards and lining up on 16R, although even on a bitterly cold day heat haze was still a big problem!

Despite the change in procedures at Narita, a small number of aircraft still land on 16R, mainly heavy aircraft (for performance reasons) but also some smaller types heading towards Terminal One – 16L is located a long way from T1 necessitating long taxi times from that runway so most pilots would prefer to use 16R.

Departing traffic was a mix of European and Asian long haul aircraft, with aircraft from Lufthansa, Air France, Aeroflot and Alitalia being seen, along with Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Korean Air. I was particularly hoping to catch some JAL 747-400s, as the company recently announced the drawdown of their 747 fleet, with the aircraft likely to disappear in the next 12 months. Even now, there are a large number of 747s parked up in the maintenance area, with some appearing to have been there for some time.

Cargo operators are very well represented at Narita, with large numbers of aircraft from carriers such as FedEx being regular visitors. I was particularly pleased to see a recently delivered FedEx 777F, the first time I had photographed one of these aircraft. Other big cargo players include JAL Cargo and Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) with other Asian carriers such as MAS Cargo and Eva Air Cargo also being regular visitors.

After a couple of hours at the end of 16R, the airport “changed ends” and switched to using 34L/R. I decided to try out an area at the end of 34L, a similar park with views over the airfield. On arriving there I found that the location was good for photographing landing aircraft, but power lines and fences made it impossible to get clear shots of aircraft on the runway. As arrivals are far from frequent on 34L, I quickly moved on to the Museum of Aeronautical Sciences in the hope of getting a better view of the taxiways.

It turned out that even the roof top terrace at the museum was not high enough to get above the obstructions, which was a shame as I missed being able to get a clear photograph of a departing Delta 747 and a specially painted Air China 777, along with a few other aircraft.

After spending a bit of time looking around the excellent (and very busy) museum, I decided to have a look at the other runway, 16L/34R. This runway was fairly busy with arriving traffic at the time, but viewing was difficult due to construction work currently in progress. That, plus the fact that light was in short supply and fatigue was starting to catch up with me, meant that it was time to call a premature end to proceedings.

GAR wants to interact with its readers so if you have a question for the author or a comment to make on this feature, please click on the button below. The best comments will appear right here on GAR.

Deprecated: mysql_connect(): The mysql extension is deprecated and will be removed in the future: use mysqli or PDO instead in /var/sites/g/globalaviationresource.com/public_html/comments/displaycomments.php on line 8

2010-04-05 - Paul Dunn
Hi Spencer,

Glad you liked the article. It appears that they don't actually alternate between using left and right for take off and landing like LHR. It appears that the eastern runway (16L/34R) is now prefered for landings and the western one (16R/34L) for takeoffs.

The western runway is considerably longer than the eastern (4000m vs 2500m) so it is better suited to heavy weight departures - a jumbo would likely be perf limited taking off from the shorter runway.

Hope that helps,

2010-04-04 - Spencer Wilmot
Nice article as usual. You mentioned the new rwy ops, do they switch á la LHR syle do you mean? Cheers.

Global Aviation Resource's photographic and written work is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without express written permission.

If you would like to discuss using any of our imagery or feature content please contact us.