NARITA, Chiba Pref. — A ceremony to mark the opening of a controversial second runway at New Tokyo International Airport was held here Wednesday with transport minister Chikage Ogi and other dignitaries attending.

The 2,180-meter strip supplements the existing 4,000-meter runway. It was originally expected to be 2,500 meters long, but strong opposition from local farmers and their supporters forced its shortening.

A Japan Airlines charter flight for Kagoshima christened the new runway, airport officials said.

The strip will officially open for commercial operation Thursday and mainly cater to domestic and short-haul flights to destinations such as China and Guam, said officials of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.

The opening comes ahead of the World Cup soccer finals, to be co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, scheduled for June.

Able to accommodate medium-size passenger jets, such as Boeing 767s and Airbus A300s, the strip will help bring the airport’s total departures and arrivals to 200,000 a year, from the current 135,000, airport officials said.

A jumbo jet requires a runway of 3,000 meters.

Government and airport officials are still far from satisfied with the new “temporary” runway and pledge to continue dialogues to win understanding of seven households of local residents still living next to the airport.

“The path until today has been very long, but the runway is still short,” Ogi told a news conference at a Narita hotel near the airport.

Ogi described the history of conflicts over the airport as “a story of blood, sweat and tears” but stressed the necessity of another full-fledged runway at Narita.

It is feared that Japan may be lagging behind countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, which all have pushed for national projects to build international hub airports with far lower landing fees than those charged at Narita.

The Japanese government unveiled the airport’s construction plan in 1966. It included plans for a 2,500-meter second runway, but the airport opened in 1978 with only a single runway due to clashes between police and anti-airport farmers and their supporters.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Chiba Gov. Akiko Domoto denied any intention to revive a land expropriation committee, saying talks with local residents should be continued first.

In 1988, the committee ceased its activities after a chairman was assaulted and seriously injured by extremists; all other members resigned out of fear of being targeted.

Following a round-table conference that started in 1991, all but a handful of local farmers agreed with the government to sell their land.

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