INCHEON, South Korea -- South Korea's new Incheon Airport opened on
March 29 without any of the possible glitches that had worried
officials of the $5.5 billion facility.
The first plane to touch down was an Asiana Airlines flight from
Bangkok, Thailand. The airport's first departure was a Korean Air
cargo jet bound for Manila, Philippines.
The Incheon airport, located 32 miles west of Seoul, replaces
the capital's Gimpo airport as the new gateway for international
flights. Kimpo has been consigned to domestic flights.
Incheon has two 12,375-foot runways and a $1.1 billion 46-gate
passenger terminal. It is designed to handle 27 million passengers
and 170,000 flights a year, and officials hope to expand its annual
capacity to 100 million passengers by 2020.
During its first day of operation, the airport ran the
computerized baggage-handling system in a semi-automatic mode after
glitches surfaced during rehearsals. Officials said it could take
up to three months for the airport's systems to stabilize.
Meanwhile, the government agreed to the demands of unions
representing workers at Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and the new
airport who threatened to strike on opening day over the high cost
of airport expressway tolls.
The government agreed to lower the cost of the toll on the
highway that provides the only access to the new airport from $8 to
$1.50 per car for airport staff. Regular car and bus passengers
will still be charged $8 per vehicle.
A taxi ride into downtown Seoul from Incheon will cost about
twice as much as from Gimpo airport, which also can be reached by
subway. Less expensive rail service to Incheon will not be
available until 2005.