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New Ishigaki airport to be open in 2012

Date Posted: 2006-11-02

The battle has raged for 30 years, but now Ishigaki City officials are convinced they’ll be able to open a new airport in 2012.

Opponents have blocked the much-needed airport for decades, citing everything from economics to environmental issues, while others simply didn’t feel like selling their land to the city. Okinawa Prefecture first identified the need for a new airport in 1976, concerned about the short runway that prevented modern jets from using the gateway city to the Yaeyama islands. They were then responding to requests dating to the early 1970’s, from those wanting to expand tourism opportunities.

Many wanted to maintain the status quo, and now expand tourism. Others were concerned about destroying World Heritages of Coral and other nature sites. The small existing airport remained, with a capability of handling only small turbo-prop aircraft and the Boeing 737 short-range jetliner.

The new airport will have a runway two kilometers long, capable of accommodating midsize jets. Choshou Ohama, Ishigaki City mayor, is elated. “I don’t know how to express my grateful heart today. I have been waiting for this day,” he says, because “I’m sure the dream comes true. I did believe that, and I want to create the Yaeyama District on the island that coexists with humans and nature.”

The new airport site was heavily debated, studying both extending runways into the water, and carving space out of a mountainside. The final decision is to have the airport at Shiraho, where area residents say “We did give the land to the Prefecture, so we hope that this airport will bring our lives together.”

A budget of ¥42,000,000,000 has been fixed for construction. “We have bought 48% of the land,” the Prefecture says, “and the total land for public use will soon be 60%.” A spokesman says the other 40% of landowners have yet to agree to selling. Many of those 640 landowners say they’re opposed to the new airport, but the Prefecture says “we’ll do our best to buy the land from landowners and let them understand.”

Ishigaki’s tourism base in 1985 was 720,000 tourists, a number that has risen today to 1,800,000. Ishigaki Airport is first in line for the new third-airport system, and is expected to permit tourism to increase to 2,250,000 a year.

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