Hong Kong Airlines to end Tokyo service amid territorial row

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong Airlines announced today it will end its services to Tokyo this month, after it suspended flights to Osaka last October, to "tighten" its focus on regional routes.

The company will axe its route to the Japanese capital from Jan 10 allowing it "to better allocate resources in servicing more popular routes and strengthen its regional competitiveness", a company spokeswoman told reporters by email.

"There is a need to continue to tighten focus on routes in line with the company's regional strategy," she said, adding the airline had carried 30 per cent more passengers in 2012 than the previous year.

The airline described the move as a "purely a commercial decision".

China and Japan have close economic ties but their political relationship has been particularly strained recently due to a dispute over islands in the East China Sea and Chinese resentment over past conflicts and atrocities.

Tensions over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China claims under the name Diaoyu, escalated dramatically after the Japanese government bought three of them from private owners last September.

The number of Chinese tourists visiting Japan plunged 33 per cent in October 2012 compared to a year previously, to 71,000 visitors, according to the Japan National Tourism Organisation.

The Hong Kong-based airline was established in 2006 and operates 21 aircraft flying to international locations including Bangkok and Brussels, and to various locations in mainland China.

It ended flights to London, serviced by three Airbus 320-200 planes exclusively fitted with business-class seats, last September due to poor demand.