Chiba Prefecture showed understanding Thursday toward the Transport Ministry’s tentative plan to build a shorter runway at Narita airport, an alternative to the second runway stalled by opposition from landowners.

Chiba Gov. Takeshi Numata conveyed the message to Transport Minister Jiro Kawasaki during talks Thursday at the ministry, according to a ministry official who briefed reporters.

The ministry recently abandoned its original target of completing a 2,500-meter-long second runway at Narita by the end of fiscal 2000 due to an impasse with landowners over expansion of the airport.

Now it hopes to open a 2,200-meter runway in time for the World Cup soccer finals, which will be cohosted by Japan and South Korea in June 2002.

The ministry has already started consultations with municipalities in Chiba Prefecture to be affected by the plan.

Numata told Kawasaki that the prefecture “understands” the tentative plan, while it still hopes the originally planned 2,500-meter runway is completed as soon as possible, the ministry official said.

Numata also asked Kawasaki to take the time to explain the tentative plan to local residents and win their consent, noting that the ministry’s failure to consult local residents when it first launched the Narita airport project in the 1960s led to the dispute that continues today, the official said.

Kawasaki will announce his final decision on the expansion project today after reporting it to the Cabinet, the official said.

The tentative plan calls for construction of a 2,200-meter runway at a site further north of the originally planned 2,500-meter runway to avoid encroaching on property of landowners opposing the expansion.

The airport authority has unsuccessfully sought to purchase 4.8 hectares of land within the site proposed for the initial 2,500-meter runway, including 1.7 hectares owned by two farmers living on the site.

The history of the Narita dispute, which erupted into violent clashes between police and opponents, dates back to the 1960s, when the Transport Ministry failed to confer with local landowners and expropriated land to start the project. The airport has only one runway, 4,000 meters long and operating at full capacity.

The new runway will be 300 meters shorter than originally planned, but should be able to handle some jumbo jets and midsize airliners for short-range flights. Aircraft loaded for long-distance international flights, however, will require the longer runway, ministry officials said.

Meanwhile, a group of Narita-based businesses petitioned Kawasaki on Thursday to complete the expansion project as soon as possible and submitted a list of signatures from more than 260,000 supporters.

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