National

Number of foreign visitors to recovering Kansai International Airport returning to last year's levels

JIJI

The number of foreign visitors to Kansai International Airport are now returning to levels seen last year, one month after a powerful typhoon caused the major hub to shut down.

The number of flights to and from the airport in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, has also recovered to pre-disaster levels.

Typhoon Jebi caused heavy rain and a storm surge, flooding the airport’s runways on Sept. 4. The airport was closed until it reopened partially on Sept. 7.

But the recovery is not yet strong enough to reassure those involved with airport operations.

“The numbers suggest recovery, but we actually expected growth to 110 percent” of levels the year before, Yoshiyuki Yamaya, president of the airport operator, told a news conference Wednesday.

“We must achieve a stronger recovery,” he said.

Since Sept. 21, when the airport fully resumed its operations, the hub has seen over 80 percent of the number of foreign visitors who used the facility in the previous year, according to the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau’s Kansai airport branch.

Visitor numbers slumped to 20 percent of last year’s numbers Sunday, when the airport closed to prepare for the approach of another typhoon. But the number bounced back to almost the previous year’s level the next day.

“It’s great to see such a quick recovery,” a bureau branch official said. “But the figures are small, given that the number of foreign visitors has risen by over 1 million annually in recent years.”

The Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau and others are publicizing the quick recovery of the airport through social media to attract more visitors to the Kansai region.

In terms of cargo operations, the airport’s handling capacity has recovered to about 80 percent of pre-disaster volumes. A temperature-controlled warehouse for pharmaceutical products was restarted Monday and put back into use Wednesday.

But some 1,000 tons of disaster-hit cargo remain, blocking a full recovery of cargo operations.

The airport also needs to win back firms that have already switched to different airports.

The Kansai Association of Corporate Executives is calling on companies to switch back to using international cargo flights at Kansai International Airport.

The airport operator has set up three teams to work out anti-disaster measures, planning to draw up an interim report by the end of this month.