KOBE — The opening of the controversial Kobe airport, which had been scheduled to start up in 2004, will be delayed at least one year until autumn 2005, city officials said Monday.

The announcement of the delay had been expected for some time, after Kobe Mayor Kazutoshi Sasayama had said earlier this year that opening the airport in 2004 would be extremely difficult. The city government is currently conducting an environmental assessment of the area around Port Island. The study is to be completed by September at the earliest, and construction of a 272-hectare island for the airport will not begin until at least next summer, officials said.

Once the environmental assessment is complete, final approval from both City Hall and the central government is needed. However, local citizens opposed to the airport have called for a public referendum on the issue.

The airport was originally proposed in the late 1960s as an international hub to replace Osaka International Airport in Itami. After the Transport Ministry chose Osaka Bay as the location for Kansai International Airport, city officials began pushing for a one-runway domestic airport, despite opposition from local citizens, especially following the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

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