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Transport minister Chikage Ogi called Friday for a review of the operations of Osaka International Airport with a view to reducing flight slots and stripping it of its current designation as an international airport.

The comments by the land, infrastructure and transport minister were seen as an effort by the government to alleviate noise pollution around the airport in Itami, bordering Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, and shift traffic to Kansai International Airport off Osaka and a new airport near Kobe that is currently under construction.

Kansai International Airport, built on a man-made island far from downtown Osaka, has already been hit hard by the economic slump, and many industry observers fear that Kobe airport, being built about 8 km from the city center, will only add to the overcapacity in Kansai region air traffic.

Ogi said she has called for a review of the three airports’ roles, hoping to put more strategic emphasis on the Kansai International and Kobe airports.

The review, expected to be completed by the end of the year, will look into the possibility of downgrading Itami airport’s current status as a No. 1-Class airport. Its status as an international hub means the central government must fully shoulder operating and other costs.

“International flights do not use Osaka International Airport,” Ogi said, “and there is no reason for it to remain designated as a No. 1 Class airport.”

When Kansai International Airport opened in 1994, all international flights to and from the Kansai area were redirected from Osaka International Airport.

Budgets allocated for soundproofing homes around Itami airport should be scaled down accordingly, Ogi said. The budget totaled 8.6 billion yen for the current fiscal year.

Ogi’s remarks drew a mixed response from local municipalities, which are divided over the negative impacts of noise pollution and the positive economic effects of having an airport in their vicinity.

Many surrounding municipalities want noise-pollution issues addressed, while the city of Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, which hosts the airport, has called for a resumption of international services to Asian countries in a bid to boost the local economy.

“Comments will be issued later after an antinoise association of 11 local municipalities (including Ikeda) discusses the matter,” Tsutomu Sugiyama of the Ikeda municipal office said later Friday.

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