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ANALYSIS: Tie-ups between regions key to boosting passenger demand.

TOKYO, June 23 Kyodo

Japan's 98th airport opened recently in the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka despite the severe business climate, exemplified by the global recession and a drastic decline in passenger demand following the outbreak of a new strain of influenza.

The airport had earlier made the headlines because the runway had to be shortened by 300 meters from the originally scheduled length of 2,500 meters due to the tall trees next to it, leading to the resignation of Gov. Yoshinobu Ishikawa in exchange for the felling of the stumpage.

But the new airport already anticipates a deficit of more than 500 million yen in its initial year, even if planes from the six domestic and foreign airline companies serving eight routes as well as chartered flights to and from the airport fly at full capacity.

According to a survey by the Aviation Policy Research Association, 31 of the 41 major airports across Japan have suffered deficits in recent years.

At many local airports, passenger numbers have been decreasing, and airline companies have been reducing the number of routes. Coupled with lower revenues due to reductions in landing fees, many airports are now trying to cover their loss-making operations with taxes.

But given the severe financial situation, there is a limit to what taxes can do to cover airports' deficits, and other measures are required to stimulate demand, such as tie-ups between various communities where airports are located to organize sightseeing tours.

More than 20 years ago when the plan to build an airport in Shizuoka Prefecture surfaced, the idea of an airport in each prefecture was in vogue. Later, many people advocated building two airports in each prefecture, based on predictions of excessive demand, and thus numerous airports were constructed.

But as Shizuoka Prefecture is also served by shinkansen bullet trains and expressways, there had been questions as to whether an airport was necessary.

Many local airports are connected to Tokyo's busy Haneda airport but a proposed Shizuoka airport was long considered a rival to Tokyo because they are relatively close to each other.

Thus the proposed Shizuoka airport was once termed a ''third airport in the metropolitan area'' to complement Narita and Haneda which have reached saturation points.

But at Narita a second runway has been completed, while at Haneda work to increase the runways is under way. In addition, demand in the western part of Shizuoka will be absorbed by the Central Japan International Airport in neighboring Aichi Prefecture.

But because the airport's nickname is the Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Airport, moves are afoot to lure tourists to the Mt. Fuji region and the Izu Peninsula through the airport, especially through tie-ups with airports in Sapporo, Kumamoto, Kagoshima and other areas.

Immediately before the airport's opening on June 4, the cities of Sapporo and Hamamatsu signed a cultural city tie-up agreement. If exchanges between residents of the two cities expand under the agreement, users of the Shizuoka airport may increase and it could become a model of regional tie-ups.

The airport could also try to encourage local citizens to visit it even if they are not flying, perhaps with the addition of attractive restaurants or holding a local farm market there. Better transportation links to surrounding areas and cities in the prefecture, especially by bus, would also not go amiss.

Many local airports do not reveal the extent of their operations, but they should fully disclose them to local residents and solicit their ideas on how to make the airports more financially viable.
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Publication:Japan Transportation Scan
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jun 29, 2009
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