The evolution of Gimpo Airport

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The evolution of Gimpo Airport

The author is a political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In the lead-up to the June 1 local elections, the relocation of 83-year-old Gimpo Airport became controversial. The airport started as the runway for the Japanese Army in 1939. It was an airfield with obvious military purposes, as it was used as a flight training ground by the Japanese Army’s air corps. After liberation in 1945, it was used as an airfield for the U.S. forces. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, the airfield was repeatedly taken over and retaken. U.S. aircraft and North Koran aircraft alternately took off from the runway of the airport, targeting enemies’ critical spots.

In 1958, Gimpo Airport became an international airport. It was expanded several times through the 1970s, adding a domestic terminal in 1971 and an international terminal in 1973. In the 1980s, Seoul hosted the Asian Games and the Summer Olympics. As Korea went through rapid growth, the airport served as a gateway to the country and had a heyday as an airport.

Through its long history, the airport has seen many incidents and accidents. In 1970, when a far-left Japanese organization hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 351 and took more than 100 passengers hostage, they were rescued at the airport. In 1986, only a week before the Seoul Asian Games, a homemade bomb exploded in a trash can in the international terminal, killing five people. As the suspect was not caught, the case remains unsolved.

After Incheon International Airport opened in 2001, Gimpo Airport operated exclusively for domestic flights for a while. After the Gimpo-Haneda route resumed two years later, it became an airport with shuttle services across East Asia to major cities in Japan and China as well as serving Jeju and other domestic destinations. In the month of April, 1.6 million passengers took 6,150 flights from Gimpo Airport.

After Lee Jae-myung, candidate for a legislative seat representing a district in Incheon, and Song Young-gil, candidate for Seoul mayor in the local elections jointly proposed to incorporate the functions of the airport into Incheon International Airport, the People Power Party claimed that it cannot accommodate the volume and that residents of the capital regions will experience inconvenience if the airport moves farther from Seoul.

But the proposal for relocation is not entirely groundless. After Yeouido Airport — Korea’s first airport built in 1916 — transferred its civilian aviation functions to Gimpo Airport in 1958, the airport also transferred its military functions to Seoul Airport in Seongnam city in 1971. The land left behind in Yeouido was redeveloped into a 10-lane road and Yeouido Park. But it is still questionable whether the promise to relocate Gimpo Airport, which appeared at the end of their election campaign, really reflects the need for relocation.
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