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Central Japan International Airport, opening today near Nagoya, will serve as a key center for the exchange of people, commodities and information between Japan and the rest of the world, said Yukihisa Hirano, president of the new airport’s operating company.

In a recent media interview and an interview with The Japan Times, Hirano also emphasized that he will stick to the “customers-first principle” in the new airport’s management and operation.

“Our aim is to make the new airport a truly competitive one in terms of economic efficiency and user-friendliness,” he said. “Out of unceasing soul-searching and reforms, the new airport will be put on an evolutionary path.”

Hirano’s adherence to economic efficiency is evident in the fact that Japan’s third-largest international airport after Narita International Airport and Kansai International Airport was completed at a cost 640 billion yen, or some 130 billion yen under the original estimate — a feat almost unheard of for major public infrastructure projects in this country.

The operating company, Central Japan International Airport Co., is capitalized at 102.4 billion yen. The central government holds a 40 percent stake, and local governments, including the Aichi Prefectural Government and the Nagoya Municipal Government, account for 10 percent. The remaining 50 percent is held by the private sector, including Toyota Motor Co.

It has been dubbed “Toyota airport,” due to Toyota’s involvement in the project and the Toyota-style strict cost-management method, as evidenced by the drastic reduction in the construction cost. Hirano himself is a former Toyota executive.

Asked about the prospects of the airport company’s profitability, Hirano said revenue in the initial year will be “more than 50 billion yen.” Expenditures will be trimmed to “less than 55 billion yen,” and the initial-year balance sheet will likely be held to “less than 5 billion yen in the red,” he predicted.

In a matter of five to six years, the airport, nicknamed Centrair, coined from the words central and airport, is expecting to register a net profit on a single-year basis, according to other executives.

As it opens, the number of domestic flights using the new airport, which features round-the-clock operation and a 3,500-meter runway, is 94 a day, linking Nagoya with 24 cities all over the country. This figure is much higher than the seven cities for Narita and 14 for Kansai International.

The initial number of international flights at Centrair is 267 a week, linking with 25 cities including Paris, Frankfurt, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Manila, Bangkok, Detroit, Honolulu, Guam, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur, in addition to 26 international cargo flights, according to the airport company.

As the number of international flights is expected to reach 321 when the summer schedule kicks in during the last week of March, Hirano said, “We will have a good start.”

Taking heed of the fact that some 70 percent of the international flights using the new airport at the time of its opening are on Asian routes, Hirano said he will continue to attract more airlines to use the new airport for European and North American routes.

“One of the major attractions of Centrair is the convenience in connecting between international flights and domestic ones,” he said. The concourses for international and domestic flights are integrated in the same passenger terminal building to provide the maximum convenience for connections.

More important, there is high demand in Nagoya and adjacent areas for international travel. The scarcity of nonstop direct flights from Nagoya to major foreign cities has been a chronic headache for local people.

Also, there is huge demand in central Japan’s other key cities for nonstop long-haul international flights, as people there now have to go a long way around to Narita or Kansai airports to catch such flights, Hirano pointed out.

He said he has been in talks with cities, foreign airlines and travel agencies to use Centrair or develop new services using the new airport.

“Their responses have been basically positive, although I cannot disclose the details at this moment. The results will be known this summer and thereafter,” he said with confidence.

Hirano predicted that some 12 million passengers will use Centrair in its first year, given the fact that some 10 million to 11 million passengers have been using Nagoya Airport annually. The old airport is to be converted to a prefectural government-operated airport for exclusive use by small aircraft.

“This estimate is nothing but a base figure. We are counting on both domestic and foreign visitors to the six-month Aichi World Expo, due to start March 25, and new demand for connecting services from other local cities as an addition to this base figure,” he said.

Another prospective source of revenue lies in the geographical location of the new airport in the Chubu area, which is home to key manufacturing industries, not to mention the automobile industry and Toyota.

With a population of more than 20 million, the Chubu area — comprising nine prefectures including Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Nagano and Gifu — accounts for a quarter of Japan’s total shipments of manufactured goods. Its regional equivalent to gross domestic product is larger than the national GDP of Italy or Canada. And many of the manufacturers in the region are active on a global scale with strong demand for air cargo transportation, both inbound and outbound.

At the time of the opening, Centrair will have only 26 international cargo flights a week. “As an airport that operates 24 hours a day, we are capable of accommodating some 30 flights an hour,” Hirano said.

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