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(LEAD) Gov't to check feasibility of 3 new airports

All News 14:55 January 27, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 10-11)

SEJONG, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- The government plans to conduct feasibility studies on the construction of new airports in three western areas where demand for air transportation has been on the rise, the transportation ministry said Wednesday.

The state-run Korea Transport Institute will carry out the studies on the three regions -- Saemangeum, Seosan and Baengnyeong Island -- and receive input from civilian experts as part of the country's five-year airport development plan, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said.

The plan will focus on ways to expand the country's low-cost carrier (LCC) market and attract more Chinese tourists in step with airport developments taking place in other parts of Northeast Asia.

"The goal is to fuel economic developments, help LCCs increase their market size and make regions more accessible to visitors that can lead to more economic growth and tourism," the ministry said.

A feasibility study on Saemangeum, some 280 kilometers south of Seoul, is centered on an airport that can replace or augment a nearby airport in Gunsan that needs to be expanded.

An airport in Saemangeum, a region reclaimed from tidal flats, can also make it more attractive to foreign investors, mainly from China.

In regards to Seosan, which lies 151 kilometers south of the capital city, studies will be carried out on adding a passenger terminal to a military airbase that has two operational runways.

A plan for Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea near North Korea calls for building a small airport that can handle propeller planes. The island is home to over 5,000 people who can only reach the mainland by a long ferry trip. The remoteness has affected the island's ability to attract visitors and hindered development.

The ministry said an airport built on Baengyeong, some 270 kilometers northwest of Seoul, will be similar to the airports approved for Ulleung Island in the East Sea and Heuksan Island in the Yellow Sea late last year.

Air passenger traffic is forecast to rise at an annual average of 3.4 percent in the coming years to reach 187 million by 2035, up sharply from 90 million tallied last year. Domestic passenger growth will reach 2.5 percent per year in the same time period, with international routes growing 4.2 percent, it said.

With the exception of the Ulsan and Yeosu airports, all domestic airports will see a steady rise in passengers, with numbers expected to go up steepest for air terminals serving Daegu and Jeju Island, it added.

Besides the three airports that will be reviewed, the transportation ministry said it will decide where to build a new hub airport that will serve the whole of the Gyeongsang region in the southeastern part of the country. This airport must be built so planes can land and takeoff around the clock.

Daegu, Ulsan, and the North Gyeongsang and South Gyeongsang provinces support Milyang as the candidate site for the new airport, while Busan, the country's largest sea port and No. 2 city, wants the airport to be built on Gadeok Island, not far from the existing Gimhae International Airport.

The ministry said that even if a site for the new airport is selected, facilities at Gimhae airport, which are expected to hit full capacity in 2023, will be steadily expanded to meet the rise in international air passenger traffic.

Besides the new airports, the transportation ministry said construction to add a second passenger terminal to Incheon International Airport is on time with the structure to be ready by 2017.

Small regional airports for the islands of Heuksan and Ulleung will be open for passengers in 2020 and 2021, respectively, with the second airport on Jeju Island to be ready for passenger traffic in 2025, the ministry said.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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