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The Transport Ministry officially dropped plans Monday to build a second runway at Narita airport by March 2001 after failing to break an impasse with landowners opposed to the expansion.

It is now setting its sights on June 2002, when Japan cohosts the World Cup soccer finals.

Transport Minister Jiro Kawasaki instructed ministry and New Tokyo International Airport Authority officials to promptly draw up new measures for the project, while continuing efforts for dialogue with the landowners, according to Satoshi Iwamura, director general of the ministry’s Civil Aviation Bureau.

Kawasaki reached the decision in a meeting Monday with Parliamentary Vice Transport Minister Motoo Hayashi, Administrative Vice Transport Minister Masahiko Kurono, and Toru Nakamura, president of New Tokyo International Airport Authority.

The ministry and the airport authority will work on the new plan immediately while consulting with the Chiba Prefectural Government and the Narita Municipal Government, Iwamura said.

June 2002, when the World Cup is scheduled to start, will probably be the next target date because many foreigners are expected to visit Japan for the championship games, which will be held in Japan and South Korea.

As a stopgap measure, the ministry may consider moving the proposed second runway farther north to a site where the airport authority has acquired most of the needed land. It would build a 2,000-meter long runway there instead of the planned 2,500-meter runway.

A 2,000-meter runway can handle midsize airliners used on domestic flights as well as short-distance international operations, enabling Narita airport, which is operating at full capacity, to increase its traffic volume. The airport currently has only a 4,000-meter runway.

About 4.8-hectares of unbought land remain at the site of the second runway, including 1.7 hectares owned by two families living on the site.

In December 1996, the ministry announced that March 2001 was the target date for completing the 2,500-meter second runway, by acquiring land through dialogue with the landowners.

It will take about two years to build the proposed runway.

Since January, senior ministry and airport authority officials stepped up their efforts by visiting the residents of the Toho district at the site and calling for discussions.

The opposing Toho landowners issued a statement in October renewing their determination to oppose the project and rejected dialogue with the government.

The ministry and airport authority failed to break the deadlock, even though some landowners had agreed to sell land at the propose site.

“We cannot help giving up the target. It is unfortunate that we were unable to open a discussion with the remaining landowners,” Iwamura said. “Even by making full efforts, we were not successful.”

Airlines from 33 more countries want to use Narita airport, the main international gateway to the Tokyo area. During civil aviation talks, the ministry had asked those foreign governments to wait until the expected fiscal 2000 completion of the construction.

In a written statement, Nakamura of the airport authority said the authority takes the support and expectations of the local community for an early completion of the second runway very seriously.

Iwamura also noted that a petition drive conducted by a local business group had collected 150,000 signatures in support of the expansion project as of Friday.

It remains to be seen how Monday’s decision will affect the current impasse with the landowners, who sharply resisted the fiscal 2000 target date by the ministry.

“I have opposed (the airport project) for 30 years. I have no comment on the government’s decision to give up the fiscal 2000 target. I can’t accept being blamed for not selling my land,” sad Shoji Shimamura, a farmer at the second runway site.

Narita airport opened with the one runway in 1978 instead of the three proposed in the initial plan, after the ministry’s failure to consult with landowners invited fierce resistance from local farmers and their supporters, and led to violent clashes with police.

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