• Kyodo

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A shower of metal fragments that fell onto a residential area in the city of Fukuoka from a jetliner whose engine caught fire soon after takeoff Friday night underscored the risks posed by Fukuoka Airport, located some 7 km from the city center.

One of the airport’s advantages, according to its supporters, is this proximity to the city, the largest in Kyushu. Just a five-minute subway ride from JR Hakata Station, some have called it “the most convenient airport in the country.”

On Friday, however, residents discovered that convenience comes with a price.

According to the Fukuoka Airport office of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, some 16.33 million people used the airport in 2004, the fourth-highest total in Japan. There were about 136,000 takeoffs and landings during the year, making it the third-busiest air hub.

The youngsters who were slightly injured when the hundreds of fragments fell had been playing soccer at a field in Higashi Ward.

Several fragments were also found in the parking lot and awning of a condominium building facing the soccer field.

“I got up this morning to search (to see if there were any metallic fragments), and I was frightened to see some at my place,” said the building’s 65-year-old owner. “I’d like airline operators to conduct proper maintenance and fly their planes safely.”

The jetliner had taken off toward the north due to wind conditions. This is why so many metal fragments were scattered in mainly residential Higashi Ward, experts said.

In 2002, the Fukuoka Prefectural Government, the municipal government of Fukuoka and the local business community jointly unveiled a plan to move the airport to a site in waters off the town of Shingu, but this was later retracted.

Fukuoka Mayor Hirotaro Yamazaki said earlier this year that the Gannosu district of Higashi Ward, which is along the waterfront, is a “promising candidate site” for a new airport.

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