It’s ‘Wait and See’ Time for the Kansai Int’l Airport [part 1]


OSAKA — If Tokyo can be considered the economic lifeblood of Japan and the world, then in comparison Osaka has been a postwar catatonic patient with a faintly beating pulse.

That is, until now.

Government and economic leaders in western Japan are now claiming to have the one remedy that will pump vitality into Osaka’s financial veins and forever change the way the world looks at the region.

It is the Kansai International Airport.

This “miracle cure” to be located 5 km offshore in Osaka Bay is expected to bring money — lots of it — and prestige simply by opening the area to outsiders.

The Kansai Airport will be the first and only major airport in Japan open 24 hours a day. Travelers will be able to fly in any time of the day or night without annoying stopovers in Tokyo. Upon arriving, they can be in the heart of Osaka within the hour.

Subsequently, supporters of the airport plan envision a wave of tourism like this region has never seen before.

They picture Osaka’s lagging growth industries experiencing a new high.

Foreign trade will be stimulated beyond belief.

Land development will be frenetically spurred.

Small and medium-sized businesses will flourish.

International media communications will take root here.

Political and financial leverage of the region will exert much more weight in Tokyo.

The west rises again

Beneath all the talk of “revitalizing” Osaka’s economy is the underlying feeling that the Kansai International Airport will regain respect for an area of [western] Japan that, in modern times, has lost its long-held reputation as the nation’s prime trading and commercial base.

Supporters of the Kansai Airport see its ripple effects spreading throughout the region, catalyzing the success of pending projects such as the Kansai Science City near Nara and the expansion of Osaka Port.

Kobe, a neighboring port city, and the popular tourist attractions of Kyoto are also expected to be intertwined with Osaka’s newfound success.

As a result, Osaka’s “internationalization,” a trendy buzzword used these days in government and business circles, will become a way of life, the envy of cities the world over.

And Kanto critics of Osaka will be silenced forever.

That is the dream, anyway, of many business and government leaders here.

If the airport, scheduled for completion in 1993, does go according to plan, the results will indeed be impressive.

The cost of the first stage of the project is estimated at ¥1 trillion, or about $8 billion.

That first stage, comprising the bulk of the airport plans, is subdivided into three distinct (yet overlapping) phases:

—Phase One: This is now underway as a seawall buffer is being constructed. After it is completed in late 1988, soil will be dumped within the perimeters of the seawall to support the weight of the island. Work on an access bridge to the mainland has also begun in this phase.

—Phase Two: Airport terminal buildings and other structures like the runway, control tower, cargo handling systems and fueling systems will be built during this period, which is expected to start in 1990.

—Phase Three: Purchasing and installation of the airport’s various electronic equipment systems will be done in this phase, also expected to begin around 1990.

Once those three phases are finished in 1993, the airport company hopes to move on to the second and final stage — expanding the airport to include two additional runways. Although the company has not yet received formal approval for the expansion, it is confident it will get the OK from the Ministry of Transportation sometime soon.

Privately run

The airport is being touted as the first major public works project in Japan to be undertaken by a private company.

The Kansai International Airport Co. Ltd. (KIAC), set up in October 1984, will oversee the project from start to finish. The company is headed by Dr. Yoshio Takeuchi, a former Ministry of Transportation official.

Financing of the airport is being shared by various city and prefectural governments, with the national government helping out. The private sector will also pick up a share of the tab.

The airport itself will be a 511-hectare-area island built on waters about 18 meters deep in southeast Osaka Bay.

The runway will be 3,500 meters long and will handle 160,000 arrivals and departures a year.

At least 16 foreign and domestic airlines are expected to use the airport when it opens. According to KIAC estimates, more than 30 million foreign and domestic passengers will be served annually and more than 1 million tons of cargo will be handled every year.

An airport harbor will also accommodate various passenger and cargo ships.

There is even talk of hotels, department stores, restaurants and a conference hall being constructed on the airport island.

The 3.8-meter-long access bridge will connect the airport to the city of Izumisano on the mainland, where Osaka Prefecture is planning multibillion-yen coastal development projects to coincide with the airport plans.

Izumisano will, in turn, serve as a junction for citywide train and auto travel to and from the airport via the access bridge.

There will be no residential noise problems — now the bane of the inner-city Osaka International Airport — at the offshore site. And if need be, there is plenty of room in Osaka Bay to expand the new airport even further beyond its original boundaries in the future.

In short, the Kansai International Airport is expected to be the most awesome airport in the world.