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, the airline has been in talks with Brisbane Airport about a resumption of direct services between the Queensland caapital and Tokyo's Narita Airport from November.
A resumption of a second direct route to Australia by the airline would be a boost to the local tourism industry, which has suffered from the number of Japanese visitors falling by 48 per cent over a decade.
The visitor numbers rose 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 in-bound market - peaked at 800,000.
Brisbane Airport management confirmed it was in discussions with the airline 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," a spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for the airline said it 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 look out for markets that we don't fly to and, if it makes sense for us to consider, we would definitely explore it."
The airline called a halt to flights 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 upon a network expansion, although it has been hamstrung recently by the grounding of its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
The airline still has daily services between Sydney and Tokyo.
Qantas recently warned growth in Japanese tourists would remain "stagnant at worst, anaemic at best" in coming years due to their travel tastes changing and a lack of investment in attractions in Australia.
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 the Japanese airline and Jetstar to code-share on the Japan route until 2017.