[INSIGHT] Incheon International Airport Is Ready

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[INSIGHT] Incheon International Airport Is Ready

The Incheon International Airport opening ceremony was held Thursday. Because the project took eight and a half years since the beginning of the construction, it is obvious that the nation is in a festive mood. And yet, we still feel uneasy somewhere in the backs of our minds.

After the International Air Transport Association suggested postponing the opening of the airport due to a lack of preparations last month, reports pointing out problems of the new airport followed every day. The problems include the lack of capacity in the baggage handling system and the malfunction of the common user airport systems. A report submitted by the DLiA, a consortium of German, French and Australian consultants commissioned to check the airport operations systems, also fueled criticism by citing possible safety problems.

Specialists show doubts about the government and the Incheon International Airport Corporation, saying, "The Hong Kong and Denver airports had difficult times at the beginning, and it is doubtful that our new airport is fully prepared to open."

Some people argue there is no rush to open the airport; they say, "The new airport will cost the users more money and time, so there is no need to hurry."

Originally, the new airport was scheduled to open on Jan. 1, 2001. The airport corporation postponed the launch because the International Air Transport Association requested a rescheduling of the opening to early April, even though the new airport was ready to operate, considering the busy schedule and bad winter weather.

Problems that need to be solved before the opening are the instability of systems, lack in employee training, inconvenient transportation arrangements to approach the airport, lack of supporting facilities and fog. Among these issues, lack in employee training is a problem for the airlines and ground operations companies currently working at Kimpo Airport. The issue is not lack of time, but that some airlines were lax in carrying out training. Korean airlines have trained their employees well enough, but foreign airlines have not done so. The issue here is how to train employees of the foreign airlines effectively in the short period given until the opening.

Regarding unstable systems, airport management insisted, "There is no problem." The integrated information and communication system was tested jointly with DLiA in February and its stability was confirmed. Now the system is undergoing trial operations for over eight hours a day. The baggage handling system operates satisfactorily, with 99.8 percent accuracy. The speed of handling arriving baggage is 720 pieces per hour per gate, and the speed of handling departing baggage has almost reached the planned standard, 600 pieces per hour.

The CTX airport security scanner, a two-step explosives detector operating together with the baggage handling system, has nearly reached normal operations status and even if it malfunctions, X-ray inspections may be adopted as an alternative, as at Kimpo Airport.

"Since the end of June, the new airport has been test-operated with 35,000 employees and nine aircraft. Right now, the baggage handling system shows normal operation," said Kang Dong-suk, the president of the Incheon International Airport Corporation. "Although imperfections in some areas still exist, there are no problems serious enough to cause a delay in the starting of commercial operations," he said. Yet, specialists raised their voices: "It is time to move on to the stabilization stage, not system tests."

The new airport does not show any malfunctions in facilities, and systems supporting aircraft take-offs and landings, such as runways and the air traffic control system show no safety concerns. But unexpected problems may arise. Denver Airport ran into trouble because the baggage-handling system failed to route luggage properly, while disorder at the Hong Kong Airport was caused by a control failures in the baggage handling system. Compared to those two airports, Incheon International Airport is much better prepared.

For the remaining time before the opening, everyone has to fol low Mr. Kang's orders. All employees should be trained repeatedly to counter any possible emergency. The role of 1,700 volunteer workers is also important.

Passengers have to understand that there are bound to be some inconvenience at first. It is best to check in at the airport as early as possible. Although we understand that airport employees who have to work in the suddenly changed environment will have hard time, the priority is opening the new airport. The government and the corporation have to expand public transportation at night in order to reduce the inconvenience of passengers and airport employees as much as possible.

Incheon International Airport has been built despite the hardships of the foreign exchange crisis by expending the best efforts of the entire nation. We should not allow the new airport to be criticized more than competing airports due to small flaws.

by Eum Sung-jik

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