▲ Jungsuk Airfield is one option for a new Jeju airport. Photo courtesy Daum
Some 630,000 foreign tourists visited Jeju in 2009 but Governor-elect Woo Keun Min promised during his election campaign that within four years of his incumbency, he would achieve the goal of attracting more than 2 million foreign visitors each year.
It is an ambitious goal for sure, but considering that more than 50 mega-cities are scattered around the island within just two hours flight time, new governor's goal is certainly achievable given the right strategy and the administration’s support.
Since foreign visitors spend on average two to six times more during a stay on Jeju than domestic travelers, attracting more than 2 million foreign visitors each year would be a lucrative business plan for the island’s tourism industries.
Woo has said that if the Jeju provincial government were to grant domestic airlines “free sky” rights in the region, meaning flights can fly to and from Jeju from any destination, more domestic airlines would fly between Jeju and top destinations in North-East Asia, turning Jeju International Airport into a hub second in Korea only to Incheon Inter-national Airport.
One obvious barrier to realizing this ambitious vision is the limit of the current airport capacity in Jeju. According to the finding of a latest governmental survey sponsored by Seoul, Jeju International Airport will reach its maximum capacity by 2025, despite a planned expansion and piecemeal upgrades of passenger terminals and aircraft parking lots.
“Jeju first needs to resolve the issue of accessibility to the island from domestic and international locations to realize the vision of building Asia’s top free international city,” said Hyun Seung Tak, chairman of the local council for the New Jeju International Airport.
The province’s task force team for the New Jeju International Airport announced on June 7 that it had signed a contract with Korea Research Institute for Human Settlement for a comprehensive study on a new airport, which would review such details as identifying candidate sites and preemptive measures to minimize the size of residential areas affected by aircraft noise.
Three key options have been identified so far in terms of selecting the potential site of a new airport — inland, on the seaboard or on an artificial island off the coast. The study will try to review the merits (and demerits) of each option and the environmental and social impact on the life of residents.
Jungsuk Airfield, a private airport owned by Korean Air, was briefly proposed as an option by Hyun Myung Kwan, Woo’s opponent during the election campaign, but Woo scoffed at the suggestion, saying that “scores of oreum that rise along the flight path of the airfield will threaten the safety of aircraft.”
Any new airport will potentially breed conflict and economic clashes on the island, as it would be sure to favor some areas over others.
Should a new airport be built on the southern side of Jeju, it would move the island’s economic center further south, making many northern residents unhappy. Depending on the design of the landing strip, thousands of islanders living under the flight path could be affected by aircraft noise as well.
A new airport has long been touted as a future economic lifeline for Jeju Islanders but Woo may have stepped into the mine field of “not in my back yard” protests everywhere.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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