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The transport ministry on Friday sharply lowered its forecast for passenger demand at Kansai International Airport off Osaka, indicating that the scheduled opening of a second runway in 2007 could be delayed.

In a revised estimate based on the government’s new GDP forecast and projections for the yen-dollar exchange rate, the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry now expects Kansai airport to deal with 136,000 landings and takeoffs in fiscal 2007.

This figure is 15 percent lower than an earlier estimate submitted by the airport’s operator, Kansai International Airport Co.

The latter said the airport’s single runway would accommodate a capacity of 160,000 landings and takeoffs by 2007.

Transport minister Chikage Ogi told a morning news conference that the latest estimate does not necessarily mean the ministry has altered plans to open a second runway at the airport in five years.

A paper released by the ministry, however, says, “It may be appropriate to (open the second runway) when the airport reaches its full capacity of 160,000 (landings and takeoffs).”

The paper was submitted by the ministry to a meeting Friday of an expert panel tasked with scrutinizing the government’s medium-term airport construction plans from fiscal 2003.

According to the revised estimate, the number of landings and takeoffs at Kansai airport will reach 167,000 in 2012. The new figures do not, however, specify a date at which the 160,000 capacity figure will be reached.

Many airlines oppose the construction of the second runway, fearing higher landing fees as a result.

Air travel demand has also floundered amid the prolonged economic slump and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Furthermore, the transport ministry is exhibiting caution in its demand estimates for large construction projects.

In recent years, a number of government-funded infrastructure projects — including local airports, dams and expressways — have flopped due to much lower demand than that initially forecast.

In its latest airport demand estimate, the ministry used the government’s new medium-term GDP forecast, adopted by the Cabinet in January.

This forecast sees GDP growth of 0.6 percent in fiscal 2003, 1.5 percent growth in fiscal 2004 and 2005, 1.6 percent growth in fiscal 2006 and an average of 1.9 percent growth from fiscal 2007 to 2010.

The ministry also assumes that the yen exchange rate will average 130 against the dollar in the period between 2007 and 2012, compared with an earlier forecast of 105 against the dollar.

Since the number of Japanese people traveling abroad exceeds by far the number of foreign visitors to Japan, a lower yen drives down demand for international passengers at Japanese airports, according to transport ministry officials.

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