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Suspension of Kansai airport operations after typhoon feared to hurt economy

The runways of Kansai International Airport are submeged under seawater after powerful Typhoon Jobi triggered high waves and high tides on Sept. 4, 2018. (Mainichi)

The suspension of operations at Kansai International Airport after powerful Typhoon Jebi flooded one of the facility's runways and sent a tanker smashing into a bridge connecting the airport to the mainland has raised concerns about the economic impact on west Japan and other parts of the country, as many inbound travelers use the airport.

If it takes a long time for operations to fully resume at the airport, it could negatively affect the economy supported by inbound tourists who travel across the country.

The airport, which has two runways, is built on reclaimed land. One of its strengths is that planes can take off from and land at the airport 24 hours a day. This feature was used to draw low-cost carriers (LCC), and since 2012 many discount airlines have started using the airport.

In the past it was common for people to use airports in the Tokyo metropolitan area to enter and leave Japan, but due to Kansai airport's proximity to China and Southeast Asia, the number of foreign travelers using it has surged. In fiscal 2017, the number of passengers at the airport climbed to 28.8 million, marking a record high for the third consecutive year.

The Minami entertainment quarter in Osaka in western Japan, which can be reached directly from Kansai International Airport without having to change trains, is bustling with visitors from overseas every day. Many inbound tourists visit the nearby ancient cities of Kyoto and Nara, which are rich in cultural assets, but do not limit their visits to those places, also making their way to other parts of western Japan that boast bountiful nature and diverse food cultures, causing the economic ripple to spread out.

Prolonged suspension of operations at the airport could result in a decline in inbound travelers who have come to support a section of the Japanese economy, as a direct air route between the Kansai region and other countries is lost. The debilitating damage has also cast a dark cloud over hopes that the airport could reach the 30 million passenger mark in fiscal 2018 for the first time since the airport opened.

Sept. 4, when the typhoon hit, marked exactly 24 years since Kansai airport opened in 1994. The economies of both the Kansai region and the wider areas of western Japan will be influenced by how quickly the airport can resume operations and start drawing inbound visitors again.

(Japanese original by Yuichi Utsunomiya, Osaka Business News Department)

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