A consortium of companies is to enter exclusive talks with the land ministry over operating New Chitose and six other airports in Hokkaido, the ministry said Wednesday.

The move is part of plans to privatize the operations of New Chitose, Wakkanai, Kushiro, Hakodate, Asahikawa, Obihiro and Memanbetsu airports. They are currently operated by the central government or local authorities.

The consortium could start operating the seven airports in stages starting in 2020. It is expected to conclude a 30-year contract on the airport operations as early as October.

The consortium is led by Hokkaido Airport Terminal Co., operator of New Chitose Airport’s terminal buildings. It also includes Mitsubishi Estate Co., Tokyu Corp., the state-affiliated Development Bank of Japan, North Pacific Bank and Hokkaido Electric Power Co.

New Chitose Airport, which is close to Sapporo, is financially stable thanks to strong demand from business travelers and tourists. The six others are struggling.

The consortium aims to boost passenger numbers at the seven airports through measures such as developing sightseeing routes in Hokkaido.

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