Closure of Japan's gateway to Asia risks denting tourism boom
Nikkei -- Sep 06
Japan's main gateway for Asian tourists, Kansai International Airport, has remained shut down in the wake of Typhoon Jebi, threatening to disrupt the growing tourism that has been a key engine of the Osaka-area economy.

Foreign tourists were left stranded on Wednesday as airlines scurried to reroute flights away from the flooded airport. The most powerful storm to strike Japan in 25 years has forced many budget airlines flying to the rest of Asia to cancel flights and rearrange bookings.

Though operator Kansai Airports says Runway B -- the runway that was not submerged -- will reopen first, an official could offer no time frame. "Runway A will take more time," the official said of the other runway.

All Nippon Airways suspended sales for all domestic and international flights to and from Kansai Airport through Tuesday.

Kansai Airport is used by about one-quarter of the foreign tourists visiting Japan. It served 28.8 million passengers in fiscal year 2017, up 12% from the previous year. Foreign passengers accounted for nearly 70% of those on international flights, mostly from South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia thanks to the airport's proximity.

But the typhoon exposed the airport's vulnerability, a question since its opening in 1994. One of the most prominent weaknesses of the island airport is the soft foundation on which it was built.

With pillars constructed on a base 18 meters deep, the man-made island has sunken 3.4 meters in the past two and a half decades and continues to drop by 6 cm a year.

To cope with the dangers of high waves, the airport installed 5-meter sea walls in 2004. But the typhoon, which happened to coincide with the high tide, triggered waves that surpassed expectations.

The other obvious weak point is the bridge, the sole means of access to the island. Roughly 8,000 people were forced to stay the night at the airport, stranded after the bridge was struck by a 2,591-ton tanker set adrift by the storm. They were evacuated starting on Wednesday morning by ferries that sailed the 24 km across Osaka Bay.

At this time of year, the airport serves a daily average of 195 international flights, most of which fly to and from other parts of Asia.

News source: Nikkei
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