Kansai International Airport has partially resumed operations today with 19 flights including two cargo flights, after being closed since Typhoon Jebi struck on 4 September flooding large portions of the airport.
However, the governor of Osaka Prefecture, Ichiro Matsui was quoted by Japanese media as saying: “The restoration will be on a basis of several months.” Concerns have been raised over the impact of a prolonged closure of the key transport hub on business, trade and tourism. In 2017, Kansai airport handled 28.8 million passengers – a record high, along with 852,000 tonnes of cargo. The airport is also the North Pacific Regional Hub for FedEx.
The first flight operations were domestic flights with low-cost carrier Peach Aviation (a unit of All Nippon Airways), departing at 11:50 AM local time. A total of 19 flights – two by Japan Airlines and 17 by Peach – are scheduled for Friday. Other airlines using the airport including All Nippon Airways have yet to resume flights.
The planned resumption of flights account for fewer than 10 per cent of the over 500 domestic and international flights that typically take off or land at Kansai International daily, including cargo which sees nearly 150 freighter flights a week. The main cargo routes of KIX are Shanghai, Hong Kong, Qingdao, Taipei, Singapore, Memphis and Frankfurt.
Currently ten carriers operate maindeck cargo operations through KIX according to the airport’s website, including: Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA), Air Hong Kong, China Cargo Airlines, China Postal Airlines, FedEx, Lufthansa Cargo, Silk Way West Airlines, Singapore Airlines Cargo, Sparna Airlines (formerly known as Yangtze River Express) and UPS.
On the passenger side, Peach and China-based Spring Airlines are the first to resume flights in and out of the airport due to the fact both generally use the relatively unscathed Terminal 2.
It is still unknown when the airport will resume international flights, its operator said, adding it could take a week to return to full operational status. One of the two runways – Runway B –is currently in operation as the other – Runway A – was badly damaged by the storm surges from Osaka Bay during the typhoon which also damaged Terminal 1.
The bridge that links the airport, which is on an man-made island, to the mainland was also damaged, after a tanker smashed into it after being ripped from its mooring by the strong winds and high waves.
The operator reopened undamaged lanes of the bridge, which provides the only road and rail access to the airport, to designated vehicles including shuttle busses operating between the airport and city. The train service remains suspended.
In a statement, Yoshiyuki Yamaya, president and CEO Kansai Airport Co. says: “It was… an unprecedented disaster [that] occurred and initially it took a long time to restart, but thanks to all the people involved in the early stages, [the airport was reopened] the third day after airport closure. We thank you that we were able to resume the airport.”
Kansai International is built on two artificial islands that each have one runway. Runway B is at least 4.6 metres above sea level and suffered no major flooding. Terminal 2, on the same island, also avoided any serious damage.
Runway A, on the other hand, is less than two metres above sea level and suffered severe flooding from Typhoon Jebi, as did Terminal 1. The airport’s fuel supply facilities were also reportedly damaged.
Osaka International Airport – also known as Itami Airport – and Kobe Airport, both operated by Kansai Airports Co. are moving to take up the slack, with Kansai’s Yamaya saying he has requested local governments to allow for extended operating hours.
The city of Kobe indicated that it would accept this request, but needs to make preparations for additional customs, immigration and quarantine operations.