“Kanku” Airport—Seen but Not Heard
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN JAPAN
APPROACHING the Kansai International Airport from the air, you will see an island with a logo “Kansai” in English.* This Japanese island lies some three miles [5 km] off the coast in Osaka Bay. Nothing but the airport and related facilities can be seen. In fact, the island has been tailor-made for use as an airport. Opened in September 1994, the airport is nicknamed Kanku, an abbreviation of its Japanese name, Kansai Kokusai Kuko.
An expressway bridge, 2.3 miles [3.75 km] in length, connects the airport island with the mainland, making it accessible by road and rail. The island is equipped with port facilities for ships and ferry services. But why build a whole new island for an airport?
An Airport Not Heard
A growing number of tourists and visitors to the Kansai area caused the number of airplanes booming over the residential area around the Osaka International Airport to increase. To relieve people living there of the noise nuisance, a curfew from 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. was imposed. No permission has been given to add more international flights since 1974. Thus, an airport to handle the increased passengers and freight without being heard on the mainland became an urgent need.
An airport that could be used around the clock without causing nuisance—that was a big challenge for those who were involved in the project. The only solution that presented itself was to build an island far away from where people live and make it an airport. A mammoth project indeed!
National and local governments together with the local business world financed the $15-billion project, setting up a private company to build and operate the new airport. Mr. Keisuke Kimura, the executive vice president of the Kansai International Airport Company, told Awake!: “Being a private company, we could not afford to spend a lot of time in creating the island. The work had to be done quickly.”
“Creating the Island”
Reclaiming land along the coast is one thing, but creating an island three miles [5 km] off the coast is another. In order to create the 1,260-acre [511 ha] airport island, 6.4 billion cubic feet [180,000,000 cu m] of sand and soil was used as landfill. “That is the equivalent of 73 pyramids—I mean the biggest one made by King Khufu,” explains Mr. Kimura.
On the seabed, at an average depth of 60 feet [18 m], lay a soft clay layer from which water had to be drained. “One million sand piles, 40 centimeters [16 inches] in diameter, were driven into that layer to drain water from it and consolidate the foundation. With the weight of the landfill, water was squeezed from the 20-meter [66 feet] soft layer of soil, shrinking it to 14 meters [46 feet],” explains Mr. Kenichiro Minami, who was in charge of the landfill project. “What we feared most was an unequal settling of the subsoil. We used computers to calculate exactly where the landfill should be made so that the settling would be even.”
Altogether, the depth of the landfill reached 110 feet [33 m], the equivalent of a 10-story building. However, under the weight of the landfill, the seabed has sunk and continues to sink. It is calculated that the seabed will sink a further five feet [1.5 m] in 50 years, leaving the island ten feet [4 m] above sea level.
In 1991, even before the entire island had been created, work on the passenger terminal building and control tower was started. After more than seven years of rigorous work, construction of the island, airport, and related facilities was completed.
Huge but Compact
Arriving passengers are in for a pleasant surprise. “By the time we got to the baggage claim area, our suitcases were there,” says a traveler from the United States. What accounts for the smooth flow? “The passenger terminal building is huge but compact,” says Mr. Kazuhito Arao, who is in charge of the passenger terminal building. “Passengers don’t have to go through a maze, typical of international airports.”
The structure of the passenger terminal building is simple but unique. The main building is designed to save passengers unnecessary movement. Domestic passengers can proceed from the train station straight to their check-in counter and then on to the boarding gate without going up or down any stairs.
From the main building, where check-in counters, immigration offices, and customs are located, two 2,300-foot [700 m] wing buildings extend north and south, leading to 33 boarding gates. Passengers using gates away from the main building can take the automated guideway transit system, called the Wing Shuttle. It takes passengers to the desired gate within five minutes—including the time spent waiting for the shuttle.
Airport to Be Seen
“Being an airport totally on the sea, it is clear of any obstacles,” says Mr. Arao. “Yes, we hear that pilots are saying it is an easy airport to land on,” agrees Mr. Kimura.
Others also appreciate how it looks. The sophisticated design of the terminal building in the shape of airplane wings has attracted many tourists to the Kanku. They also enjoy watching airplanes taking off and landing on the unusual island airport. “We had to build an observation deck on top of the maintenance center for the tourists to the airport, although we did not intend to do so at first,” says Mr. Kimura. An average of 30,000 people a day visit the airport just to look around.
If you visit Japan near the Kansai area, why not fly in or out of the Kanku—an airport that can be seen but not heard by its neighbors.
Kansai is the general area in western Japan that includes the commercial cities of Osaka and Kobe and the historical cities of Kyoto and Nara. Kokusai kuko means “international airport.”
[Picture Credit Line on page 25]
Kansai International Airport Co., Ltd.