Final Destination: The Kansai International Airport [part 3]

Gateway to Asia: Interview with Takeuchi Yoshio

Dr. Takeuchi Yoshio, president of the Kansai International Airport Co. (KIAC) since 1984, led the project through the stormiest of its domestic and international conflicts. Following are excerpts from a recent interview with journalist Brian Covert amid unconfirmed reports that Takeuchi would soon be stepping down from his KIAC post...

How has the Kansai Airport avoided — and how will it avoid in the future — the kinds of problems Narita Airport has had?

The issue with Narita is that the farmers opposed the construction of the airport in that region, and those farmers somehow joined up with the extremists. Narita just can’t execute construction under that kind of opposition, and that’s why they haven’t had a second runway up to now. The main problem is that Narita somehow tried to support the economy of Japan with only one runway. That, of course, resulted in very severe congestion at the airport, leading to even bigger problems. In our case with the Kansai Airport, we have no strong opposition from either farmers or the fishermen’s unions.

I don’t want to start a new trade war with this question, but do you still feel the way you did a few years ago — that foreign companies had no experience in Japan or did not try to earn the contracts they sought?

I think what I told you at the time was that Japanese companies made a big effort to sell their products to us, which is the tendency of Japanese companies. But the European and American companies tended to believe that we should buy their products because they are the best. That is the kind of attitude that foreign companies were mostly taking. But now, the foreign companies that want to work in Japan are doing lots of PR, making contact with us and putting forward their own requests. I feel that this has been a significant change.

...What we have been most concerned about is giving a fair chance to all to compete on an equal basis. That is the foundation of what we are doing now. As a result, sometimes a Japanese company might win, sometimes a European or American company might win. But what is most important is we have to do it fairly, informing people well in advance so that they join the competition on a fair basis.

What will the Kansai Airport mean to the average traveler, both in the Kansai area and throughout Japan?

I believe it will have an enormous influence. First, with half of the country’s population living in the western part of Japan, with 20 percent of the country’s GNP, the Kansai has huge potential. The GNP of the Kansai region is almost equal to that of Canada. Thus the Kansai is entitled to have a huge and efficient airport from both the economic and social standpoints. However, because of the limited capacity of the current Itami (Osaka International) Airport with its noise pollution problem, we still have relatively limited airport access. This causes a bottleneck in the aviation industry which we are going to open up by building the Kansai International Airport. [Itami will continue to handle domestic flights only.]

Secondly, since many people from such areas as Kagoshima, Wakayama, Shikoku and Chugoku cannot fly into Osaka, they fly directly to Tokyo. With the new Kansai Airport, we are going to overcome this problem and have more connections with the local regions.

Thirdly, because of Itami’s present limitations, most of the flights from Asia are also connected to Narita, not Kansai. By having our own airport, we want the Kansai to be a new gateway or hub for Southeast Asia and China.

The fourth point is that this airport will be a core of city development in the field of tertiary and high-tech industries. All the neighboring regions around the airport will see a new expansion of economy and industry. ...When you consider all that, naturally the Kansai Airport will need second and third runways in the future.