National

Abe announces typhoon-hit Kansai airport will reopen to some domestic flights Friday

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kansai airport (KIX) officials announced Thursday that typhoon-damaged Kansai International Airport would resume operations of some domestic flights Friday.

Peach Aviation, a low-cost carrier based at Kansai airport, will become the first airline to operate flights since the facility was closed Tuesday — after Typhoon Jebi caused flooding that damaged the main runway and tarmac, and drove a tanker into the bridge connecting the airport to the mainland halting its use.

In a press release late Thursday night, Peach whose operation is based at undamaged Terminal 2 said that six flights would depart Friday for Niigata, Nagasaki, Narita, Naha, Kagoshima and Sendai. A total of 11 flights would arrive at Kansai airport from those six cities as well as Fukuoka and Kushiro.

Kansai airport officials also said two cargo flights, one departing to and one arriving from Haneda airport, would operate on Friday.

“It was initially predicted that the airport would take a long time to reopen. But I’m grateful that we are able to reopen just three days after we had to close,” said Yoshiyuki Yamaya, president of Kansai Airports, the operator of the airport, in a written statement to the media Thursday night.

However, with the bridge still damaged the airport also warned that trains are not operating and that private cars are not allowed. Passengers will have to use special shuttle buses that will operate from JR West’s Hineno station or Izumisano station. Shuttle ferries from Kobe will also be in operation.

Friday’s flights are a step toward restoring full operations at the airport but there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome, the prime minister said Thursday.

“There are a lot of issues with damage to the fuel supply facilities, but we’ll make clear Friday the outline for the stages to full restoration,” Abe said.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui was in Tokyo on Thursday to talk to officials about utilizing Kansai’s two other commercial airports tominimize the economic loss to the region. He told reporters that Tokyo was considering his proposal to have Itami and Kobe airports pick up some flights from Kansai airport.

With regard to the announcement that flights would resume, the governor said that the access bridge was structurally sound and could be used to get to the airport.

Despite Matsui’s comments on the structural condition of the access bridge, getting to Kansai airport remains a problem. The bridge is the only access route connecting the airport, which is located on a man-made island in Osaka Bay, to the mainland, and was heavily damaged after a tanker was pulled from its moorings by the storm and smashed into it. Part of the road on the bridge is undamaged, and was used by buses to help evacuate about 7,800 people who had been stranded at the airport.

An official from a bus company that runs routes to and from the airport said Thursday that they are still examining the situation.

“There was damage to the bridge and we’re assessing it carefully,” said Shoji Kajitani, an official at Kansai Airport Transportation Enterprise.

Kansai airport is a key gateway to western Japan, and has seen a growing number of foreign travelers from Asia. On an average day, around 80,000 travelers use the airport.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of a prolonged closure of the key transport hub on business, trade and tourism. In fiscal 2017, Kansai airport hosted 28.8 million tourists — a record high. The airport operates air routes linking it with about 100 cities in the world. In that same fiscal year the volume of cargo handled at the airport stood at about 852,000 tons, while the number of landings and takeoffs totaled some 188,000.

Information from Kyodo added