Justifying a new airport

Shizuoka airport opened June 4 as the nation’s 98th airport. The immediate future of the airport is not so bright because it started its operation amid a severe economic downturn and the new H1N1 influenza. The Shizuoka prefectural government faces the challenge of increasing the number of air travelers to the prefecture.

The airport’s opening, originally scheduled in March, was delayed after trees near its 2,500-meter runway were found to have exceeded the height limit stipulated by the Aviation Law. In exchange for consent from the landowner to fell the trees, Gov. Yoshinobu Ishikawa announced March 25 that he would resign. For the time being, only a 2,200-meter section of the runway will be used. Full use will begin this fall.

The airport’s financial prospects are not good. It is used by six airlines on eight regular air routes and for chartered flights. But even if these flights operate with every seat filled (amounting to about 1.1 million passengers a year), the number of passengers is less than the original projection of some 1.38 million. In fiscal 2009, airport revenue will be only about ¥260 million while its spending will amount to about ¥800 million.

The prefectural government hopes to turn the airport operation into the black in five years, but it not guaranteed. Due to harsh competition following liberalization of the air industry and fuel-price increases, airlines are losing the ability to maintain domestic air routes, except those linked with Haneda airport.

Doubts have been raised about the economic rationality of opening an airport in Shizuoka Prefecture since the Shinkansen super-express train line and the Tomei Expressway already run through the prefecture.

Shizuoka airport needs to develop various ideas to overcome a difficult situation. It can be used to attract sightseers to such places as the Izu Peninsula and Mount Fuji, and it can attract local residents to its improved shopping facilities and restaurants. It can also serve as a hub for local bus services.