By Kim Rahn
An international airport opened Thursday with an aim to become a hub in southwestern parts of the nation.
However, from the beginning the plan has been frustrated, as Korean carriers will not be able to operate international flights there for about half a year as it is lacking in amenities.
Muan International Airport opened after eight years of construction, with a budget of 305.6 billion won, as a hub airport in Jeolla Province. It has the potential capacity for 140,000 takeoffs and landings per year, a large runway and taxiway, and a terminal that can accommodate up to 5.19 million passengers per year, according to the Ministry of Construction and Transportation.
The ministry anticipated the airport to be used by 1.8 million passengers in 2008.
``Muan airport will lead development in Gwangju and South Jeolla Province. It will also improve the nation's air logistics together with Incheon and Gimhae airports,'' President Roh Moo-hyun said at the opening ceremony of the airport.
All international flights that operated at Gwangju International Airport near Muan were supposed to operate from Muan, and Mokpo Airport was to be closed with domestic flights there being moved to Muan.
The ministry expected to run 42 international flights per week on six routes by five airlines and eight daily domestic flights on two routes once the airport opened.
However, for the time being only nine international flights per week by two Chinese carriers and seven domestic flights will operate, as the two national flag carriers _ Korean Air and Asiana Airlines _ decided to keep their operation of four weekly flights to China at Gwangju airport until next June.
The decision was made due to the ministry's inconsistent policy. The construction of a highway connecting Gwangju and Muan has not been completed and thus the difficulty in accessing the airport was evident, consequently the government allowed international operation at Gwangju airport until the end of constructions in June.
With only half of the international flights operating in Muan and the other half at Gwangju, customs and immigration facilities and cargo terminals at Muan are also unlikely to be fully operational. Moreover, the airport lacks restaurants and convenience stores as no companies have applied to do business there due to the small number of flight operations.
Concerns are mounting that Muan will become another one of the provincial airports that suffer from deficits. According to the Korea Airports Corporation, 10 out of the nation's 14 airports _ except Jeju, Gimpo, Gimhae and Gwangju _ are in debt with Yangyang Airport in Gangwon Province having 12.8 billion won in losses.
The downfall of provincial airports is attributable to the KTX, as the number of passengers has dropped largely since the opening of the bullet train in April 2004. Korean Air and Asiana have decreased or even scrapped operations at those airports.