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Consider role-sharing among airports in Kansai region when disasters hit

The Yomiuri ShimbunComplement the functions of Kansai Airport with other airports, given that the latest typhoon damage has clearly shown the facility is vulnerable to a storm surge. It is essential to seriously think about how to disperse the risks looming at the time of a disaster.

More than one month has passed since Kansai Airport was completely closed after it was flooded due to a storm surge caused by Typhoon No. 21. Passenger flights have returned to normal at the airport, but the typhoon has caused such losses as a drop in the amount of money spent by foreign visitors in the area.

“Our awareness of typhoons was too optimistic,” said Yoshiyuki Yamaya, president of the airport’s operator, Kansai Airports.

Kansai Airport is a domestic airline hub that comes after Haneda and Narita airports. If its functions are paralyzed, far-reaching effects will ensue. This can be demonstrated by an estimate showing that economic losses from the current situation will amount to ¥50 billion.

As Typhoon No. 24 approached in late September, a planned closure was implemented at Kansai Airport for the first time, a measure taken to issue advance notice that runways will be closed. Efforts should be made to inspect the positive and negative effects of the move, thereby utilizing them to reconsider responses to disasters.

It is a grave situation in which the functions of Kansai Airport’s cargo terminal, which plays a pivotal role in import-export operations in western Japan, have not yet entirely returned to normal. This is said to be attributable to such factors as the reality that freight damaged by the flood remains unshipped in the terminal’s international cargo area.

The amount of freight handled there in September decreased by as much as 60 percent year-on-year. This forced some cargo to be handled at Narita and Chubu airports instead, leading to an increase in physical distribution costs.

Learn from latest damage

Work to repair a bridge connecting Kansai Airport to the opposite shore, the only way to reach the airport by road, will likely be completed in the spring next year.

The cargo and bridge situations can be described as clearly pointing to the weaknesses of Kansai Airport as an offshore facility.

How should Osaka and Kobe airports be utilized as supplementary facilities for Kansai Airport when Kansai Airport is unable to sufficiently fulfill its functions? In-depth discussions on the matter should be promoted, with the latest typhoon damage as motivation.

As both Osaka and Kobe airports are exclusively used for domestic flights, limits have been set on the time slots assigned to takeoff and landing operations and the number of flights available. To place priority on promoting the utilization of Kansai Airport, these regulations were laid down in 2005 by a consultative meeting for discussions on three airports in the Kansai region, which consists of local governments and business circles.

Since April this year, the three airports have been operated by Kansai Airports in an integrated manner. Kobe Airport can be operated around the clock, with only a few noise-related restrictions imposed there.

A system should be looked for that can flexibly handle such situations as those in which international flights and freight from Kansai Airport need to be distributed among these airports, while accommodating the wishes of the local governments involved.

Among major domestic airports, Chubu is also another offshore facility. One of the runways at Haneda Airport lies offshore, too.

An expert committee at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is studying matters regarding how to maintain the functions of major airports in times of large-scale disaster. Has the impact of storm surges or tsunami been appropriately presupposed? Have adequate arrangements been made to complement the functions of an airport hit by a disaster with those of other airports? It is essential to carefully examine these matters, based on the lesson learned from the damage suffered by Kansai Airport.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 10, 2018)Speech



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