JAPAN Airlines is considering flying to Brisbane again in a sign the in-bound tourist market from Japan is recovering after almost halving over the past decade.
After years of retreat, JAL has been in talks with Brisbane Airport about resuming direct services from Tokyo's Narita Airport as early as November. Resumption of a second direct route by JAL would be a boost to the local tourism industry.
The number of Japanese visitors did rise by 5 per cent to almost 352,000 for the year to November. But the figure is still well down on 1997 when Japanese visitors - then Australia's largest inbound market - peaked at 800,000.
Brisbane Airport confirmed it was in discussions with JAL about a resumption of services, but said "no firm date had been mentioned for their return".
"The demand is certainly there and there is a groundswell of support from the Queensland government and business community for the return of a full-service carrier between Brisbane and Japan," the airport said.
A spokeswoman for JAL said the airline had not made any decision about restarting the Brisbane-Tokyo route. "It is not something we would commit to saying at this point in time," she said.
"Without specifying Brisbane, we do keep a lookout for markets that we don't fly to and if it makes sense for us to consider, we would definitely explore it."
JAL stopped flying between Brisbane and Tokyo in September 2010 as part of substantial cuts to its international network after it entered bankruptcy protection.
It relisted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange last year and has since embarked on a network expansion, although it has been hamstrung recently by the grounding of its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
JAL still has daily services between Sydney and Tokyo.
Qantas recently warned that Japanese tourism would remain stagnant or anaemic due to their changing travel tastes and a lack of investment in attractions.
In 2011, Qantas stopped direct Perth-Tokyo flights, and temporarily replaced Boeing 747 jumbos with smaller Airbus A330s. Jetstar flies the bulk of the Qantas Group's services to Japan.
Regulators recently gave approval to JAL and Jetstar to code-share on the Japan route until 2017.