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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kansai opens second runway, hopes 1.6 trillion yen was well spent


Staff writer

OSAKA — A formal ceremony was held Saturday morning to commemorate the opening of Kansai International Airport's controversial second runway, which will start operations Thursday.

The ceremony, attended by transport minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, Osaka Gov. Fusae Ota and about 400 Kansai region political and corporate leaders, marks the inauguration of what all dubbed Japan's first "completed" 24-hour international airport.

The new 4,000-meter runway makes Kansai airport Japan's only major international airport with two runways over 3,000 meters long. The opening of the second runway brought visible relief to the faces of the dignitaries present Saturday morning.

"Construction of the second runway faced many difficulties. But we managed to get it done," Kansai International Airport President Atsushi Murayama said. From the start, the project was extremely controversial. Kansai airport opened in 1994 with a single 3,500-meter runway. Original plans called for two parallel runways and a crosswind runway. But the airport's high operating costs and the region's sluggish economy forced many international carriers to pull out or cut back service in the late 1990s.

The airport was recently ranked by a British research institute as the world's seventh-most expensive airport.

International airlines and many in the central government were particularly critical of the second runway project, deeming it an unnecessary white elephant that would drive up airport costs further. Total costs to build both the runway and the artificial island it sits on are about 1.56 trillion yen.

Kansai airport still faces a future as hazy as the sky under which Saturday's ceremony took place, due to its high operating costs, competition from new, cheaper airports opening elsewhere in Asia and changing domestic demographics.

"With Japan's rapidly aging society and declining birthrate, it's important that we look to expanding the number of international flights, and work to turn the airport into a major hub for Asia," Fuyushiba said.



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