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NARITA, Chiba Pref. (Kyodo) The volume of freight handled at Narita International Airport is surging, backed by growing economies in Asia and the United States, and airport officials are hoping to regain the world No. 1 position in the handling of international cargo.

In the first six months of this year, Narita handled 1.11 million tons of inbound and outbound cargo, a record amount on a half-year basis.

For the full year, the amount is set to top last year’s record 2.08 million tons, the airport operator said.

Domestically, Narita handles by far the largest share of international cargo in Japan, at 70 percent.

Airport officials expressed strong hope of regaining the world’s top position in terms of the amount of international freight handled, taking over from Hong Kong International Airport.

Narita handled the world’s largest amount of international cargo for 10 years from 1986, but yielded the position to Hong Kong in 1996 as Hong Kong airport became a key transport hub in handling China’s fast-growing external trade.

In 2002, Narita came in second after Hong Kong with a 530,000 ton difference.

The majority of air cargo handled at Narita consists of electronic appliances, and the amount of air freight appears set to keep growing along with economic growth in Asia and North America.

“The amount of cargo handled at Narita is surpassing demand forecasts,” said Tamio Higurashi, head of Narita International Airport Corp.’s airport business headquarters. “The amount is expected to exceed 3 million tons by 2013, and it will probably be reflected in the rankings.”

Narita, however, is set to face competition on the domestic front.

Chubu Centrair International Airport, scheduled to open in the Nagoya area in February, for instance, is expected to take over air cargo from Narita destined for central Japan. At present, about 60 percent of such cargo is handled at Narita.

But an official in charge of cargo at Narita said the Centrair airport is unlikely to cause serious problems his airport.

“It will probably make things difficult for Kansai airport,” the official said, referring to the major airport near Osaka.

Narita’s strength is that it operates about 470 international flights a day linking about 97 cities around the world.

According to Tokyo Customs, many transport companies go through customs clearance in Nagoya and Osaka and ship their cargo overseas through Narita, because there are no flights that leave the existing Nagoya airport or Kansai airport during the times they want to ship their cargo.

Another challenge facing Narita lies in its capacity to handle cargo.

During the past five years, 25 major cargo-handling companies, including leader Nippon Express Co., have moved some of their facilities outside the airport to the nearby area. The floor space of such outside facilities totals around 260,000 sq. meters.

The Narita airport operator is preparing a new area, covering about 200,000 sq. meters, to handle freight, increasing cargo handling capacity to 2.4 million tons a year.

But the capacity is expected to become insufficient within a few years, airport officials said.

“It will probably be difficult for the operator to invest additional capital within the next few years,” an official in charge of cargo said, “with the operator scheduled to list its stock in three years and with the passenger terminals undergoing renovation.”

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