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FOCUS: New Kitakyushu Airport to open March 16+
[March 06, 2006]

FOCUS: New Kitakyushu Airport to open March 16+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)KITAKYUSHU, Japan, March 7_(Kyodo) _ New Kitakyushu Airport will open on the open sea of Suo off the city of Kitakyushu on March 16, with the largest selling points of less noise and 21-hour operations from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. the next morning chiefly to attract businesspeople for regional economic vitalization.

"Kyushu has so far not been linked to the Tokyo metropolitan area early in the morning and midnight. We are pleased to be able to offer a new service," said Takaaki Hori, president of Star Flyer Inc., a new airline company assigning planes to the airport.

The new airport, under state control, was built at a cost of 102.4 billion yen.

The current Kitakyushu Airport with one 1,600 meter-long runway, located some 8 kilometers southeast of JR Kokura Station in downtown Kitakyushu, is to terminate the service after the new airport opens.

Its runway is 2,500 meters long, enabling large jet planes to take off and land. It will be used by domestic flights of Star Flyer, Japan Airlines (JAL) and two affiliated airlines.

International flights using the airport will be those by China Southern Airlines.

Star Flyer will introduce three 144-passenger airbus A-320s to fly between new Kitakyushu Airport and Tokyo's Haneda airport for 12 round-trip flights a day.

The first plane will leave the airport at 5:30 a.m., and the last will leave Haneda at 11:50 p.m.

An official in charge of general affairs at TOTO Ltd., the largest sanitary earthenware manufacturer based in Kokura-Kita Ward, Kitakyushu, welcomed the opening of the new airport. "No overnight stay is required even if there is a meeting in Tokyo at 9 a.m. We can also return here in a day even if we have attended a party in Tokyo."

The Kitakyushu municipal government and the Fukuoka prefectural government will extend subsidies of 1 billion yen and 800 million yen each to the company, evidently believing it is up to the company to decide whether the airport will be successful.

The airfare is about 80 percent of that of JAL, which also operates on the Kitakyushu-Haneda route. Although the airfare gas is small, Hori said confidently, "If passengers sit on the seats, they will know the airfare is competitive."

Star Flyer has reduced the number of seats to less than that on a conventional A-320, and the space between the seats is 12-15 centimeters wider. All seats are covered with leather to produce a high-quality atmosphere.

The company aims at chalking up a profit in the initial year with the rate of seat occupancy at 60 percent and more than 750,000 passengers.

Aviation critic Kazuki Sugiura said, "Its fundamental plan can be evaluated, but its forecast of overall demand, including demand for early morning and midnight flights, is lukewarm. Operating only between Kitakyushu and Haneda also poses a large risk in the event of a natural disaster."

Japan Railways shinkansen bullet trains are expected to be the new airport's main rival. Also inevitable is competition with nearby airports. There are airports in Fukuoka, Saga, Oita and Yamaguchi prefectures.

To cope with the new airport, West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) has decided to start operating two Nozomi bullet trains between Hakata and Tokyo per hour two days after the airport opens.

JR West President Masao Yamazaki told a news conference in Fukuoka city in mid-February, "We feel competition will become severe and cannot escape from a considerable impact."

Kyushu is called a "car island," and its northern part, close to the new airport, is an area where large automobile-related factories are concentrated, including those of Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co.

A Nissan factory official said 20,000 of the company's employees are using the present Kitakyushu Airport annually. More businesspeople are expected to use New Kitakyushu Airport.

As the new airport is going to be operated from early morning to midnight, "Cargo flights, both Japanese and foreign, will increase rapidly," said Masatoshi Shigefuchi, president of the Kitakyushu Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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