Sunday, January 18, 2009

Uljin has an airport?

This story is a few months old but it is one I have been following on this blog.

The ill-conceived plan to build the airport was first hatched in the early 1990s. A series of local experts raised their voices in concern, saying there was simply not enough demand for airline services in the area. The Korea Transport Institute even presented a research paper that warned that the airport, once established, would see as few as 50 users per day...

Embarrassed government officials tried to come through with several backup plans, including turning the airport into an aircraft repair center or selling it to the air force. But there was not enough demand for repair services in the area, and the possible sale to the military faced intense opposition from local provincial governments.

“Everyone knew the airport was doomed,” said Lee Yeong-heok, a professor at Korea Aerospace University. “It was a highly anticipated failure choreographed by lawmakers who only cared about their own constituents and a government that did not do enough preliminary research.”

Uljin is in the middle of nowhere. I can't think of any city or population centre within an hour or two of Uljin. I guess nuclear engineers could fly in and out; Korea has a few reactors in the area.

I had to chuckle (in a grim way) at, " the possible sale to the military faced intense opposition from local provincial governments." I would like them to sell the airport to the military and move Gangneung's fighter wing there - I think they buzz our university specifically when I am teaching.

Another local airport in Gangwon Province faces the same fate. Yangyang Airport, built in 1997, is posting ever-bigger deficits as the number of travelers continues to shrink. Back when it started construction on the airport in January 1997, the ministry said it would replace those at Sokcho and Gangneung, two Gangwon Province airports that suffer from chronic delays due to the area’s foggy weather and weak infrastructure. They also insisted that the new airport, which officially opened in 2002, would greatly help in attracting tourists from China and Japan.

But now, all regular flights to and from the airport have been canceled due to the meager number of travelers. Aviation authorities have no clue what to do with the facility, which posted a deficit of 4.9 billion won ($3.8 million) in its first year of operation, a number that has now topped 10 billion won.

“Yangyang Airport was completely inappropriate in terms of its size and investment return,” said one official at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority who declined to be named.

Yangyang airport appears to be in a slightly better position than Uljin - Sokcho and Gangneung both are less than an hour away as are many tourist sites along the coast. As I recall, the airport was built to attract Chinese tourists and it opened right when SARS appeared; not many people were excited about Chinese tourists.

Yangyang Airpot previously on this blog: 2005, 2007

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