TOKYO - Budget carrier Scoot begins flying from Singapore to Sapporo, via Taipei, three times a week from Saturday (Oct 1).
The flight to New Chitose Airport in Sapporo will take around nine hours and the price of a return ticket starts from $438 without taxes. Each flight has a capacity of 335 passengers and 10 tonnes of cargo.
At a media conference on Monday (Sept 26), Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said the new route allows Singapore companies to partner with Japanese firms to export Hokkaido produce - including crabs, oysters and scallops - to customers "faster and cheaper".
This is important, she said, as Hokkaido is the top agricultural production region in Japan. The Japanese government has targeted an increase in agricultural exports abroad to one trillion yen (S$13.5 billion) by 2020, up from 745 billion yen today.
Mrs Teo also called for the "strongest support" to expand a bilateral air services agreement between Singapore and Japan.
"This will bring about even more passenger services, promote more flows of people, trade and investment, between and beyond both countries," she said at the press conference jointly held by the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) and the International Enterprise (IE) Singapore.
Mrs Teo also expects the new Scoot route to make it easier for Singapore tourists to visit Hokkaido. Last year, about 300,000 Singapore tourists visited Japan, and about one in six of them went to Hokkiado.
"Scoot's new flight to Sapporo will make it easier for Singaporeans - and the many who use Changi Airport as a transit point - to visit Hokkaido, and enjoy what Hokkaido has to offer all year round," she said.
This new service to Hokkaido was only possible due to the existing bilateral air deal between both countries, Mrs Teo said, adding that she expects a further expanded one to benefit both economies greatly.
Sapporo is Scoot's third destination in Japan, after Osaka and Tokyo, bringing to 23 the carrier's total number of flights to Japan each week.
Jetro Executive Vice-President Yuri Sato was confident that the new route will draw inbound tourists to Hokkaido, as well as attract foreign companies to start operation bases there.
She added that it will also allow Japan to further expand exports of its agricultural produce to India and the Middle East by "leveraging on the logistics network in Singapore".
Mrs Teo, who is also Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, joins Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in making the call for an expanded agreement.
Dr Balakrishnan had, on his introductory visit to Tokyo in April, said there is room for both countries to "work together in the air services sector" by enhancing their roles as "aviation hubs in South-east Asia and North-east Asia".
He said that a further liberalisation of the pact will "cement Singapore's Changi Airport and Tokyo's Narita and Haneda airports as the leading air hubs in our respective regions", thereby strengthening Japan's connectivity with the Asean region and beyond.
This year marks 50 years of bilateral ties between Singapore and Japan. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will begin a four-day official visit to Japan from Monday, during which he will meet his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.
During the trip, PM Lee will receive from Mr Abe Japan's top honour for a foreign dignitary on behalf of Singapore's late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Japan has posthumously awarded Mr Lee, who died in March last year, the prestigious Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers to recognise his contributions to the development of bilateral relations over several decades.