New runway OK’d to make Naha key hub

Kyodo, JIJI

A government panel studying measures to promote growth in Okinawa approved a plan Thursday to build a second runway at Naha airport and turn the surrounding area into an international logistics hub.

The envisioned new airstrip aims to develop the prefecture’s industries, primarily its tourism, information and communications, financial and international logistics sectors, by capitalizing on its proximity to fast-growing economies in Southeast Asia, the panel said.

Turning Okinawa into a international base would also assist in the further development of emerging economies in the regions, it added.

In addition, a second runway would help to ease congestion and improve safety at the airport amid an increasing number of visitors to the prefecture, in line with an earlier request from Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.

At present, the airport is jointly used by commercial and Self-Defense Forces aircraft. A landing accident involving an Air Self-Defense Force F-15 fighter jet forced it to temporarily close its only runway in December, disrupting flights.

Motoshige Ito, a University of Tokyo professor who heads the panel, said a second runway can be built “providing the necessary funds are secured,” while Gov. Nakaima, who was also in attendance, praised the proposal afterward and said it had been compiled “in an appropriate manner.”

Developing the airport under the government’s 10-year basic policy on shoring up Okinawa’s economy is vital to create a self-sustaining economy driven by the private sector, the panel said.

The plan is expected to be approved by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration Friday, and the Okinawa Prefectural Government would then start drawing up the specific details.

In further measures, the panel called for a study to be undertaken on the construction of a rail system on Okinawa Island, and also stressed the need to lighten the burden on the prefecture from hosting the majority of U.S. military facilities and troops stationed in Japan.

It also called for Okinawa’s more remote islands to be developed, and urged greater action to dispose of unexploded ordinance left over from the war.

Regarding land occupied by the U.S. military in the prefecture, the panel called on the central government, local authorities and the private sector to cooperate so that once its long-sought return to Japanese control is realized, the sites are developed in such a way that boost’s Okinawa’s economy.