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The top bureaucrat in the transport ministry said Thursday the specter of weak demand for a second runway at Kansai International Airport has made the ministry wary of taking any budgetary steps to fund its construction.

“Demand (for aviation services) is weaker in the Kansai region than other areas,” said Masato Obata, vice minister of land, infrastructure and transport. “This is partly because of the weakness of the Kansai economy.”

Obata said the ministry will conduct a “clear assessment” of likely future demand for use of the airport’s facilities before it compiles a draft budget for fiscal 2003, which begins next April.

Kansai airport, built on an artificial island off Osaka Bay, is the second-largest international gateway in Japan after Narita airport. It is located near the major cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.

Airport officials claim a second runway is necessary as they expect arrival and departure figures by fiscal 2007 at the latest to reach 160,000, the most a single runway can accommodate.

This claim is based on old demand estimates conducted by the transport ministry.

The number of arrivals and departures at the airport dropped 2 percent to around 121,000 in fiscal 2001, according to the airport.

A transportation policy panel is slated to release new demand estimates for the airport on Friday. The report is expected to feature downward revisions of prior estimates.

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