International facility to open in South Korea airport

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CHICAGO -- Incheon Airport, Seoul's new international gateway 30 miles west of the city, will open March 29.

Kimpo Airport will continue handling domestic traffic.

An estimated 339 flights will use Incheon on its opening day, according to the Korea National Tourist Office (KNTO) here, starting with a Korean Air cargo flight taking off for Los Angeles at 12:30 a.m.

That's 35% more international flights than Kimpo normally served, according to KNTO.

South Korea has had plenty of time to prepare for the opening of its new showcase, which it markets as the Winged City.

Testing began after construction on the airport wrapped up at the end of last June. The more than 40 carriers serving the airport began moving in equipment in early February.

The government began planning the mammoth undertaking in the 1980s to relieve Kimpo, which reached its saturation point in 1997, serving 36.5 million passengers.

In 1992, South Korea started reclaiming tidal land on Yongjong Island off the Incheon coast, where the airport now stands.

Last year, a suspension bridge connecting the airport to the mainland opened, as did a 25-mile expressway connecting the airport to Seoul's outskirts.

News reports from Seoul have highlighted one major concern: There is only one route in and out.

The government recently approved financing for a second bridge, expected to open in 2006, which will connect the island to the mainland.

A rail link connecting the airport to downtown Seoul is not scheduled to open until 2007.

The $5.6 billion Incheon Airport, which will operate 24 hours a day, will have one passenger terminal. At 3 million square feet, it will be Korea's largest building.

The terminal will have 252 check-in counters, 23 baggage carousels, 138 customs inspection stations and 288 arrival and departure passport-control counters.

KNTO will operate 11 duty-free shops, and three private operations will manage others.

The airport also will feature two runways, three cargo terminals, a transportation center and support buildings.

The government's goal is to develop the airport as northeast Asia's international hub.

With the opening, the first phase of the airport will be completed, and the government will embark on further phases through 2020.

Ultimately, Incheon will have two passenger terminals, four remote concourses, four runways and the ability to handle 100 million passengers a year (compared with 27 million on opening).

The airport is nine miles from Incheon, a port city best known for the Korean War amphibious landings that led to the retaking of Seoul from the North Koreans.

In February, the spelling of the city was changed to "Incheon" under government rules adopted last year to romanize Korean names. Previously, it was spelled "Inchon."

Operated by Incheon International Airport Corp., the airport (airport code ICN) is owned by the government, which plans to privatize it next year.

Incheon International Airport Corp. has a Web site under construction at www.wingedcity.com.

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