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Saturday, June 15, 2002

Report to put heavy pressure on airport execs


Staff writer

OSAKA — The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry's downward revision Friday of the projected number of takeoffs and landings at Kansai International Airport is likely to increase pressure on officials here to postpone the completion date for the second runway beyond 2007.

Most of the pressure is expected to come from foreign airlines comfortable at Narita and the central government.

"There is great opposition within the Finance Ministry to a second runway at Kansai airport," one Kansai airport official said. "The new projection of only 136,000 takeoffs and landings by 2007 on the first runway will give opponents of a second runway powerful ammunition to cut funding for the project."

Kansai airport opened on a man-made island in September 1994 with a single runway, backed by projections it would reach its full capacity of 160,000 takeoffs and landings annually by 2007. At the time, plans called for a second island and parallel runway by 2007, with a third crosswind runway to be completed by 2014.

But high operational costs, including the world's highest landing fees, and the poor state of the Kansai economy led many foreign airlines to cancel or reduce services beginning in 1996.

Nevertheless, construction of a second man-made island and runway began in the fall of 1999 as scheduled.

As Kansai airport piled up its losses and cut back services, opposition grew to central government funding for a second runway, triggering speculation that construction would be delayed until 2010 or later.

In 2001, the Finance Ministry and the airport agreed to suspend plans for the third runway and continue funding construction of the second one.

The Foreign Airlines Association of Japan, which represents more than 40 international carries and over 50 percent of the international flights to Japan, has opposed a second runway at Kansai airport since 1999.

"We've stated clearly that we believe priority should be given to full completion of a second runway at Narita," said Michael Whitehead, cochairman of FAAJ, "and that neither a second runway at Kansai airport nor Kobe airport is necessary."

In April, the International Airport Transportation Agency joined the growing tide of opposition against the second runway.

Citing the upcoming merger of Japan Airline Co. and Japan Airline System Co. (which will move JAS international flights to Narita), the high costs of Kansai airport, the 2005 opening of Chubu International Airport, where costs are expected to be only two-thirds of Kansai airport, and competition from other Asian airports, an IATA committee told Kansai airport officials that a second runway will not be needed until sometime between 2020 and 2025.

"However, Kansai officials did not give us any replies to our arguments," said one IATA official present at the meeting.

Last week, Osaka Gov. Fusae Ohta led a delegation of Kansai business and government officials to Tokyo to lobby the central government to continue its financial support and to guarantee the runway would be completed by 2007.

The finance and transport ministries told Ohta and his group that nothing had changed — which Kansai officials interpreted as meaning that the second runway would open as scheduled.

Kansai officials did not directly comment on Friday's announcement by the transport ministry, other than to say that scrapping the second runway now would be more expensive than going ahead with it.

"By the end of this year, 70 percent of the man-made island for the second runway will have been completed," Kansai Economic Federation chairman Yoshihisa Akiyama said. "Canceling or postponing the project will not save money but will instead greatly increase the costs."



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