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Ibaraki Airport a magnet for tourists

The airport's efforts to increase the seat occupancy on its flights by raising the airport's recognition is having some success. -Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN

Mon, Feb 18, 2013
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

MITO - Ibaraki Airport, which once faced a murky future with just a handful of flights a day, had been successfully drawing visitors, with a restaurant offering a close-up view of planes, an observation deck and shops featuring local agricultural products.

When the airport opened in March 2010, it had no regular flights to and from other domestic airports. Now the airport is developing into one of the main tourist spots in Ibaraki Prefecture, especially for families.

As of Jan. 27, the number of visitors to the facility has already topped 1 million this fiscal year, the first time since its opening. Although the airport is still struggling to raise passenger numbers between Ibaraki and other airports, the number has gradually increased.

The airport's efforts to increase the seat occupancy on its flights by raising the airport's recognition is having some success.

In plane sight

Visitors can see airplanes parked on the apron up close through the windows of the airport's only restaurant.

The eatery is crowded with families at lunch on Sundays.

Many visitors watch airplanes taking off and landing from the observation deck.

The runways are close to the airport building, about 50 meters from the deck, which is another attractive factor for visitors.

Fighter planes also are on display in a lot near the airport, which shares runways with the Air Self-Defence Force's Hyakuri Base.

"I came here for the first time because I wanted my daughter to see airplanes. This airport has become a nice tourist spot for us," said company employee Kimihiko Isozaki, 38, who was visiting from Hitachinaka in the prefecture with his 3-year-old daughter.

Booths featuring local food products are also drawing customers.

An agricultural food fair held Feb. 2 in the first-floor lobby lured many people.

To increase its name recognition, the airport held events on 152 occasions in fiscal 2011 and 164 times as of Jan 31 in fiscal 2012.

The airport's free parking for 1,300 vehicles allows people to casually visit the site.

According to the airport's building management office, there were about 790,000 visitors in fiscal 2010, the first fiscal year after it opened; about 990,000 in fiscal 2011; and an expected 1.19 million in fiscal 2012. Sightseers account for 65 per cent of visitors.

Numbers rising

The airport currently offers three daily flights to and from Kobe, Naha and Sapporo, as well as an international round trip between Ibaraki and Shanghai every day except Wednesday.

While the seat occupancy rate for domestic flights remained low at about 57 per cent as of January this fiscal year, the total number of passengers has been increasing, with 203,000 in fiscal 2010, 293,000 in fiscal 2011 and 284,000 in fiscal 2012 as of November.

With the increase, Ibaraki Airport has caught up to Shizuoka Airport, which opened in June 2009 and had 299,000 passengers as of November.

While a simple comparison cannot be made between Ibaraki Airport's yearly figures, as the number of flights it offers has fluctuated, management officials believe their efforts have delivered successful results.

"In addition to more flights, our efforts to attract visitors are working well," an airport official said.

When the airport opened, the management office expected the facility would lose 20 million yen(S$300,000) annually.

However, the office reported a profit of about 20 million yen in fiscal 2011 thanks to the higher number of visitors and increased income from tenants.

"We'd like to raise the number of regular visitors even more by setting up convenience stores," Kazuhiko Yokota, the administration office's manager, said.

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