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Friday, Feb. 17, 2006
DOUBTS CAST ON COSTLY HUB
Kobe airport opens amid hope
KOBE -- In what its supporters hope is not an ill omen, Kobe's new airport opened in fog early Thursday morning.
The 310 billion yen airport, financed almost entirely by the city of Kobe, is the Kansai region's third, after Itami airport and Kansai International Airport, both in Osaka Prefecture.
Built on an artificial island off Kobe, the new airport will handle 27 round-trip flights a day to Tokyo's Haneda airport, Sapporo, Sendai, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, Niigata and Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.
Authorities expect 3.4 million passengers will use the airport in its first year, climbing to 4.2 million annually by 2010.
The airport has long been a bone of contention in Kansai, as long-term demand for the Kobe facility is uncertain.
Many in the central government and foreign airlines opposed its construction, arguing that priority should be given to building a second runway at Kansai International Airport, which sits less than 40 km away.
But those concerns didn't matter to the hundreds of people on hand from early Thursday for an opening ceremony held in the main terminal building and presided over by Kobe municipal and Hyogo prefectural officials and airline representatives.
A mist hung over the airport, creating concerns the inaugural flights would be delayed. But the first aircraft, a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo's Haneda airport, departed on time at 7:05 a.m.
The larger worries for passengers Thursday morning were not flight delays but a nearly 40-minute delay on some JR trains running between the eastern Kobe suburbs and Sannomiya Station in central Kobe due to a suicide on the tracks.
Several JR passengers heading out of Kobe airport on the Portliner train, which connects Sannomiya station to Kobe airport in just 16 minutes, appeared worried they would miss their flights.
By late morning, much of the mist had lifted and flights from JAL, All Nippon Airways and Skymark were departing and arriving on time.
Passengers were in good spirits despite the weather.