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Friday, Nov. 30, 2001

Ohta angered by calls for Kansai airport delay


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Kansai officials were angered Wednesday upon hearing that the central government wants to delay completion of the second phase of Kansai International Airport, which was initially scheduled to be built in 2007.

Following a meeting with Chikage Ogi, minister of land, infrastructure and transport, Osaka Prefecture Gov. Fusae Ohta said the ministry's decision to discuss the postponement of a second runway until 2010 was unacceptable.

Construction began in 1999 and is expected to cost at least 170 billion yen.

Ogi and Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa, who was also at the meeting with Ohta, said that since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, tourism to Japan has declined greatly and it is now predicted that Kansai airport will not reach its maximum capacity of 160,000 flights a year in 2007 and will thus not need a second runway immediately. Last year, the airport had approximately 120,000 takeoffs and landings.

But also behind the decision to discuss postponement is the the Finance Ministry's opposition to the way Kansai airport is run, as well as growing anger and dissatisfaction on the part of foreign airlines who use what they say is the world's most expensive airport.

Since its opening in 1994, the airport has amassed more than 150 billion yen in accumulated debt. Late last year, then Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, concerned over the financial situation of the airport and the way it was run, stressed that it was necessary to restructure the airport's management and budget.

While the local Kansai International Airport Corp., a conglomeration of local businesses and government officials, submitted a restructuring plan to the central government earlier this fall, the Finance Ministry was reportedly unsatisfied and demanded deeper cuts.

As a result, it was announced in August that the plan for a third, parallel runway -- scheduled to have been built by 2015 -- would be scrapped and that alterations would be made to the construction of the second runway to reduce costs.

But some foreign airlines in Japan have opposed this second-phase construction. Angered by the high landing fees, low business-class volume, lack of late-night passengers and cargo services, and inconvenient scheduling of domestic connecting flights, several foreign airlines pulled out of Kansai airport or reduced their services.

The situation became critical late last year when the Tokyo-based Foreign Airlines Association of Japan called for the central government to give priority to the completion of Narita airport over other regional airport projects.

And that is the main sticking point between Kansai and central government officials.

"The central government has always seen Kansai International Airport as a local airport serving local needs," said Akio Fujimoto, senior managing director of Kansai Economic Federation. "But the Kansai business community sees the airport as a major international airport that serves the whole country."

Kansai officials are especially concerned about the proposed delay because of the new Chubu airport near Nagoya, scheduled to be completed in 2005. Fujimoto said he predicts the Chubu airport will offer strong competition to Kansai airport.



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