• Kyodo

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Kansai International Airport marked its ninth anniversary Thursday amid a sharp decline in passenger numbers.

The airport is Japan’ second-largest international gateway and primarily serves the greater Osaka area. Between its opening in 1994 and this past July 31, it served 164 million passengers on both international and domestic flights.

Expansion work is under way at the airport, which is built on an artificial island off Izumisano, Osaka.

But the number of passengers using the airport has been on the decline, particularly since the beginning of this year, according to airport officials.

Airport authorities attribute the decline to the effects of the generally sluggish economy, the U.S. war against Iraq and the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The number of passengers using the airport peaked at 20.58 million in fiscal 2000, but this figure fell to 16.92 million in fiscal 2002. The passenger count from January to July this year is down from the same period last year.

Osaka airport, a more conveniently located airport on the border between Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, is expected to outrank Kansai airport in terms of passenger numbers this year, analysts said.

Osaka airport primarily serves domestic flights.

In June, Atsushi Murayama, a former executive at Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., took over as president of Kansai International Airport Co.

He is the first private-sector individual to head the airport operating body.

Local businesses are hoping that his leadership will help lift the financially and physically sinking airport, which is slowly submerging into Osaka Bay.