The transport ministry said Friday it would probably make a decision by the end of the month on whether to extend Narita International Airport’s second runway north — instead of the original plan for a southward extension.

The ministry is leaning toward extending it north because the airport operator has made little progress in negotiations with landowners who hold plots just south of the runway.

“Although Narita’s operator has made great efforts in dealing with the landowners in the Toho district, it is regrettable that there have been no tangible results,” Kazuo Kitagawa, minister of land, infrastructure and transport, told reporters after Masahito Kurono, president of Narita International Airport Corp., spoke to him on the state of negotiations.

In an effort to extend the 2,180-meter runway to its full length of 2,500 meters, airport officials have been trying to get the seven owners of 3.8 hectares of land south of the second runway to come to the negotiating table.

A major turning point came Thursday when the airport firm succeeded in bringing five of the landowners together for the first time for an official meeting.

“We have finally held an official talk with the landowners. I think we have made a step forward,” Kurono told a news conference.

Kitagawa had told Kurono in January to wrap up talks to purchase the land by the end of March or else consider extending the runway to the north.

At Friday’s meeting, Kurono asked for more time to continue talks with the landowners.

While Kitagawa did not agree to give Kurono a new deadline, Narita’s chief will have more time to try to secure the land south of the runway.

Ministry officials said they expect to make a decision by the end of the month if there is no progress in the talks with the landowners.

Kurono said the airport firm and the landowners have agreed to meet again, but did not set a specific date for the next meeting.

Kurono also told Kitagawa that there were no major technical problems with an extension to the north.

Kitagawa has said he cannot wait any longer to make a decision because “leaving the runway ‘tentative’ any longer goes against the national interest and hinders the country’s economic growth.”

The second runway was moved 800 meters north from its planned location to avoid areas in the Toho district where the residents refuse to move out.

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