Interview: Wataru Aso, President, Fukuoka Airport Building

Fukuoka Airport is well known as one of the most conveniently located airports in the world. We spoke with Wataru Aso, the president of Fukuoka Airport Building to learn more about upcoming plans to make it even better.

Interviewed by Nick Szasz, Publisher, Fukuoka Now on March 2, 2015

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Tell us about Fukuoka Airport and your plans for adding a second runway.
Fukuoka Airport has the third highest passenger traffic in Japan. Last year, Haneda and Narita attracted 72.76 million and 32.87 million passengers respectively, but we ranked third with 19.7 million. In recent years, the number of passengers on international routes has increased and out of last year’s 19.7 million passengers, 3,200,000 flew on international routes. The number of passengers continues to rise steadily every year, but Fukuoka Airport only has one 2,800-meter runway. In reality, we should handle about 164,000 take-offs and landings a year, but we are actually accommodating more than 170,000 at the moment, so our runway is extremely busy. By comparison, Haneda has four runways and Narita has two. Look anywhere in the world, and you will be hard-pressed to find another airport that can handle this much traffic with just one runway. This is why building a second runway is our most urgent issue. I stated on the record several times that we need to build a new 2,500-meter runway because increasing the number of take-offs and landings is a major priority. The national government has earmarked a budget for next fiscal year, and plans to commence work on the long-awaited second runway have finally taken shape. This is a huge development for Fukuoka. That being said, we still need to acquire the land and take care of some other issues, all while keeping the existing airport operating smoothly, so the project will probably take about ten years to complete.

So, it’s going to take ten years?
Yes, that is the expected time span. At any rate, it is going to be a long haul.

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What does Fukuoka Airport pride itself on?
At Fukuoka Airport, we welcome and send off many different kinds of customers, but I am confident we offer them the best service in the world. Why? Because we are just five minutes by subway from the center of a city of 1.5 million. In other words, the incredibly convenient access to downtown Fukuoka helps us save our customers time. Personally, I think customer satisfaction with this could be called the best in the world. The subway connection makes us convenient, but we continue to strive to improve our services with improvements to our overground services, such as new expressways and roads.

Since we are centrally located, we must also take noise and environmental issues into account, and we must do this while keeping the lines of communication open with local residents. We work very hard to communicate closely with citizens, so they can understand what we do to keep the airport running. This relationship of trust with the local community is what sets Fukuoka Airport apart, and it is also something I am proud of.

You mentioned a lot of infrastructure projects, but are there any new services in the works too?
When we rebuild the domestic terminal, it will be moved back from its current position, and we have already started work on widening the taxiways to improve overall airport efficiency. There are several new, user-friendly buildings in the works, but what will be convenient for people coming by subway are new elevators and escalators that link directly to the first floor airline counters and the second floor departure lobby. This will make the terminals easier to access and will save our customers time. Security measures will feature heavily in the new airport, and they will be made completely separate for outbound and inbound passengers.

We also place a great deal of emphasis on the environment, so we plan on using lots of greenery and energy-saving equipment. We would also like to build a park. Until now, the airport functioned primarily as a place for people to get on and off airplanes, but going forward, I hope we can become a vibrant community hub – a place where people can come for events and other exciting activities. We value our customers, of course, but we also want the airport and the airport buildings to energize the local community.

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Are there any other airports to which you look to for ideas, and what is your vision for Fukuoka Airport?
I can’t think of any other airport that serves as a reference point for Fukuoka Airport because most other airports are located away from cities on expansive plots of land with three or four runways. Most airports with international terminals are very large, but Fukuoka Airport must remain compact due to land constraints. At massive airports, it takes a long time just getting to an airplane, but at Fukuoka Airport, you don’t have to worry about that inconvenience. We will not be able to drastically increase the number of take-offs and landings, so we will bring out the best of the airport based on the concept of compactness.

Most of the airports that are highly ranked are very large ones, but that is not the model we are using. Ours is a new model: the ‘Compact City/Compact Airport’ model. We intend to make Fukuoka Airport better while still keeping an eye on the wider world.

Fukuoka Airport Official Website: http://www.fuk-ab.co.jp/

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