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New Tokyo International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, marks the 20th anniversary of its opening today, but a row with local landowners that began before the airport started operations continues to halt its planned expansion.

During a regular news conference, Transport Minister Takao Fujii reiterated the government’s policy of dialogue with opponents of the expansion plan. “We continue to make the utmost efforts to resolve the land issue and let the airport coexist with local communities through dialogue. We hope to complete the second runway at Narita as soon as possible,” Fujii said.

The ministry and the New Tokyo International Airport Authority set a goal of completing the construction of the second runway and related facilities by the end of fiscal 2000. The second runway will run parallel to the existing 4,000-meter runway.

When the government announced a plan in 1966 to build Narita airport, it did not consult with farmers in the area and forcible seizure of the land began. This resulted in violent clashes between police and farmers and leftist radicals who backed the farmers. The hostility lingers, plaguing the expansion plan and forcing the airport to operate near full capacity with only one runway.

Since Narita started operations with the first runway in 1978, it has shown a steady growth in passenger and cargo volume, supported by large demand from the Tokyo metropolitan area. As of the end of March, 325 million passengers had used the airport since 1978 and 20.8 million tons of cargo had been handled.

During fiscal 1997, about 25 million passengers used the airport linking Japan with 89 cities in 34 countries and two regions, and about 1.7 million tons of air cargo was handled. According to the latest comparable figures available, Narita ranks as the world’s seventh-largest airport in terms of passengers. It is the third-largest in Asia, following Kai Tak International Airport in Hong Kong and Changi Airport in Singapore.

In terms of the cargo volume, the airport was ranked as the top among the world’s international airports for 10 consecutive years from 1986, while it handles the largest volume of freight among the country’s ports and airports. However, traffic growth through the airport has remained modest since 1991, when the annual number of takeoffs and landings exceeded 120,000, a level close to capacity with the single runway, according to a spokesman for the airport authority.

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