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New airport, no flights for Uljin

July 17,2007
What if they built an airport and nobody came?
Uljin Airport in North Gyeongsang is about to find out. Scheduled to become operational next year, the 130-billion-won ($141 million) facility may open its doors to no passengers, as no airline wants to use it. The money for its construction, paid out of tax revenues, could go to waste.
“It is difficult to force large airlines as well as budget airlines to create a route just to use the airport,” said Kwon Yong-bok, chief director of airline policy at the Construction Ministry, which built the airport. “We need to find an airline to use the airport, but currently there is no tangible way to do so.”
According to the ministry’s research in 2005, demand for the airport was estimated at about 50 passengers per day.
The country’s two large international carriers, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, must fill at least 150 seats per flight. The ministry said it also planned to have budget carriers Jeju Air and Hansung Airlines create routes to use the airport, but they have planes with 70 seats. The airlines were reluctant to accept the offer.
“Large airlines should take up an unprofitable route instead of budget airlines,” said Lee Seong-joo, vice president of Hansung Airlines.
“We temporarily suspended a route to Yangyang Airport due to lack of passengers. We cannot consider creating a route to Uljin Airport with little demand,” said an official at Jeju Air, who refused to be named.
“Yecheon Airport in North Gyeongsang, which was built in 2002 at a cost of 38.9 billion won in government funds, closed in 2004 as there were not enough passengers. The government’s airport projects have been inefficient in many cases,” said an airline industry expert who refused to be identified.
The Uljin project was first brought up in 1994 under former President Kim Young-sam’s administration. Construction began in 1998.
According to the ministry, more than 90 percent of the construction is completed. The airport was to open in 2004, but the schedule was deferred three times by the Board of Audit and Inspection due to the low projected demand for the airport.


By Kang Kap-saeng JoongAng Ilbo[soejung@joongang.co.kr]


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