[EDITORIALS]Domestic air crisis

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[EDITORIALS]Domestic air crisis

Many local airports are on the brink of bankruptcy. The number of users drops day by day while debt snowballs. The airports have been criticized for wasting enormous amounts of taxpayer money, and there isn't the faintest possibility that conditions will improve.

Yangyang International Airport, opened in April, cost 350 billion won ($292 million). The airport's only international route, to Shanghai, was shut down after only two months of operation, so the airport is really a domestic one, and fewer than 40 percent of the seats on the domestic flights are filled. The airport did not earn enough to cover its electricity bill; it expects to end up with 5.5 billion won of losses this year.

Cheongju Airport, opened in 1997, is big enough to accommodate 1.2 million passengers a year, but only 30,000 people used the airport in the first eight months of this year. Most of the five international airports are operating at less than 30 percent of capacity.

Domestic airports are in no better shape. Capacity use is generally less than 50 percent, and flights are so empty that many will be dropped. The 15 domestic airports have lost in aggregate more than 280 billion won.

Politics drove airport construction. Politicians accepted local governments' demands in the name of balanced development, creating the current crisis. Muan and Uljin airports are now under construction, and the groundbreaking for Gimje Airport will take place this year. All three airports were presidential election pledges.

After more expressways are opened and the bullet train connects Seoul and Busan in 2005, local airports will suffer more. Experts forecast that Daegu Airport will lose 65 percent of its users, while Gimhae Airport will lose 20 percent. Local airports should not be a drag on local economies instead of contributors. It is time to review the domestic aviation policy that was drawn up mainly for the operation of large aircraft. Smaller planes should be introduced and profitable routes should be expanded to save the local airports.

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