Business

Kitakyushu opens new 5-2 a.m. airport with high expectations

KITAKYUSHU (Kyodo) New Kitakyushu Airport opened Thursday, offering with a longer runway than its now-closed predecessor, and expanded operating hours.

The offshore airport, half an hour from downtown Kitakyushu, handles flights by domestic airlines that link the city to Tokyo, Nagoya and Naha, Okinawa, as well as Shanghai on flights operated by China Southern Airlines.

The new airport’s first departure, an Airbus A320 operated by new carrier Star Flyer, took off in drizzle bound for Tokyo’s Haneda airport at around 7:20 a.m., carrying a near-capacity load of about 130 passengers.

The airport now has a 2,500-meter runway to accommodate wide-body jets and, according to its operator, will have the longest hours — 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. — of any airport in Japan thanks to its offshore location.

“As flights are offered from early morning till late in the night, it’s good for people taking day trips to Tokyo for business who don’t have to hurry now,” said Yukio Nakamura, 33, a passenger on the Star Flyer flight, before it took off.

The first flight to arrive was from Tokyo, bringing Kitakyushu Mayor Koichi Sueyoshi.

“The airport that citizens have earnestly hoped for has finally opened,” Sueyoshi said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Kyushu’s second-largest city expects the new airport, on which construction began in 1994 and cost 102.4 billion yen, to serve between 1 million and 1.5 million travelers annually, sharply up from around 300,000 passengers handled by the old inland airport that closed Wednesday after 62 years of operation.

The new airport has 17 round-trip flights daily to Haneda — 12 of them Star Flyer flights — as well as three to Nagoya’s Komaki airport and one to Naha.

China Southern Airlines will offer flights to Shanghai three times a week, starting Thursday, while Vladivostok Air is planning to start flying in the summer to link Kitakyushu with Russia’s Far East, according to city officials.