Campaign proposal to close Gimpo airport shakes up race
Lee Jae-myung, a Democratic Party (DP) candidate running for a National Assembly seat, and Song Young-gil, the former DP chief running for Seoul mayor, pledged Friday to "relocate" the Gimpo International Airport in order to lift development restrictions for the western Seoul area. Lee, who lost last March's presidential election, is running from Incheon's Gyeyang-B district in a by-election Wednesday.
The candidates proposed that other airports, particularly Incheon International Airport, can take over Gimpo's flights. They said Cheongju International Airport in North Chungcheong and Wonju International Airport in Gangwon could also be used in lieu of Gimpo.
This would open up development for the western Seoul metropolitan area, including Incheon's Gyeyang District, Seoul's Gangseo District and Gyeonggi's Gimpo city.
Gimpo airport's location in Gangseo District, western Seoul, forces height restrictions on buildings nearby.
The sound of planes taking off and landing has long been the cause of complaints by residents in the area.
"I believe the Incheon International Airport and alternative airports nearby should be sufficient," Lee said at a press conference Friday.
The DP candidates called for quicker express trains connecting Seoul and Incheon International Airport, to make up for the loss of convenience of traveling in and out of Gimpo.
The plan to shut down Gimpo airport drew scorn from the People Power Party (PPP).
On Friday, PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok called the DP's plan "reckless" and possibly detrimental to Jeju's tourism industry.
He noted that 70 percent of Gimpo's domestic flights are between Seoul and Jeju Island and lambasted the DP for using the airport as an issue to get votes for the Gyeyang parliamentary seat.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon also blasted the plan.
"The tourism industry on Jeju Island will be adversely affected," Oh, who is campaigning for reelection in Song, said Sunday, "and Seoulites will have to travel very far to go on a trip."
He continued, "People making promises a few days before election day to get votes are not qualified as National Assembly members representing Incheon or as Seoul mayor, and should be expelled from the political arena."
On Monday, Kim Eun-hye, the PPP's Gyeonggi governor candidate, joined Oh in a press conference at Gimpo airport to criticize the idea.
Gimpo was Korea's main international airport before being replaced by Incheon in 2001. It remains Seoul's second airport. Besides domestic routes, many travelers love to use it for trips to nearby foreign countries including Japan and China. International flights were halted during the Covid-19 pandemic and will resume in June.
To enable easier access to Jeju instead of flying, Lee and Song are proposing a new KTX bullet train to Jeju Island by digging an undersea tunnel.
But Lee and Song's proposal to shut down Gimpo has resulted in some backlash within the DP as well.
Oh Young-hun, the DP's Jeju governor candidate, was put in an awkward position by backlash from Jeju residents. While criticizing PPP Chairman Lee's remarks as stirring up political divisions, Oh tried to distance himself from Lee and Song's proposal in a press conference Friday.
On Saturday, Heo Hyang-jin, the PPP's candidate for Jeju governor, said, "It's an arrogant idea that does not consider the inconvenience of citizens and the economy of Jeju residents."
Kim Dong-yeon, a former finance minister and the DP's candidate for Gyeonggi governor, had previously pledged to move the functions of the Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, to Gimpo airport to build a global startup city on the site.
In response to Oh's criticism that Seoulites may be inconvienced if Gimpo was shut down, Lee wrote in a Facebook post on Monday, "Gimpo and Incheon airports are only 10 minutes apart by high-speed train," to point out that Incheon is not that far.
Similarly addressing brewing concerns Monday, Song said in a press conference at the National Assembly that the plan "can't be carried out without the consent of the people of Jeju," and that the pledge would require "public debate" and "cooperation with the central government."
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]