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Make sure Japan’s airports can assist all passengers when disaster strikes

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe importance of the airports located throughout Japan is rising in tandem with such factors as the influx of foreign visitors to the nation. These airports must make doubly sure they are properly prepared to deal with a disaster.

In September 2018, huge waves whipped up by Typhoon No. 21 inundated Kansai International Airport and rendered its runways unusable. A tanker buffeted by powerful winds crashed into an access bridge, severing this main transport link and stranding about 8,000 people at the airport.

The typhoon exposed the fragility of an offshore airport. Disaster countermeasures indicated by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry focused on dealing with an earthquake or tsunami; a typhoon had not been contemplated. After last year’s typhoon, the ministry was quite right to call on all airports in Japan to take precautions with every type of natural disaster in mind.

The failure of disaster-related information to reach airport users also emerged as a pressing problem. An underground electrical supply facility flooded and a power cut resulted in the airport being unable to broadcast public announcements inside its buildings. People were unable to charge their smartphones, leaving foreign visitors and others unable to find up-to-date information.

Kansai International Airport will shift its electrical supply facility to an aboveground location by the end of next fiscal year. Securing a power supply is essential. Each airport should take effective steps, including securing emergency power sources, to ensure they are prepared for a disaster.

The privatization of airports has been notable in recent years. The central and local governments have retained ownership of the facilities at 10 airports, including Kansai International Airport and Fukuoka Airport, while entrusting their operation to the private sector. This structure uses private-sector capital and expertise to improve services at these airports.

This privatization has been accompanied by moves such as introducing more extensive commercial facilities. Not only travelers but also shoppers now visit airports to use these facilities. The number of foreign visitors to Japan continues to grow and topped 30 million in 2018.

Devising plans not enough

There are concerns that transport links to airports could be cut if a disaster strikes. It is crucial that airports stockpile food, drinking water, blankets and other items for the wide array of airport users who could become stranded. Providing information in multiple languages also is important. Running an airport requires even more meticulous care than before.

In April, the infrastructure ministry compiled a proposal regarding disaster management at airports. The proposal emphasized the importance of airports having a business continuity plan (BCP) so their functions can be quickly restored. Airports across the nation are making progress on completing their new BCPs.

Of course, simply drawing up a BCP cannot be considered as the end of the required preparations. Just how effective these plans are will be the important point.

In May, Haneda Airport, which has the most passengers of any airport in the nation, conducted a training exercise in which the company operating the terminal buildings, airlines and other entities confirmed how they would share information. These participants should regularly conduct more such drills and boost their ability to deal with a disaster.

It is possible that an airport could be forced to close after being hit by a major disaster. In such an event, it also will be necessary to divert passengers and cargo shipments to other airports. The central government must play a central role in preparing conditions that will enable Japan’s aviation network to stay up and running.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 6, 2019)Speech



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