Opened on 4 September 1994, the airport serves as a hub for several airlines such as All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, and Nippon Cargo Airlines. It is the international gateway for Japan’s Kansai region, which contains the major cities of Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. Other Kansai fly from the older but more conveniently located Osaka International Airport in Itami, or from the newer Kobe Airport.
The airport had been deeply in debt, losing $560 million in interest every year. Airlines had been kept away by high landing fees (about $7,500 for a Boeing 747), the second most expensive in the world after Narita’s. In the early years of the airport’s operation, excessive terminal rent and for on-site concessions also drove up operating costs: some estimates before opening held that a cup of coffee would have to cost US$10. Osaka business owners pressed the government to take a greater burden of the construction cost to keep the airport attractive to passengers and airlines.
On 17 February 2005, Chubu Centrair International Airport opened in Nagoya, just east of Osaka. The opening of the airport was expected to increase competition between Japan’s international airports. Despite this, passenger totals were up 11% in 2005 over 2004, and international passengers increased to 3.06 million in 2006, up 10% over 2005. Adding to the competition was the opening of Kobe Airport, less than 25 km (16 mi) away, in 2006 and the lengthening of the runway at Tokushima Airport in Shikokuin 2007. The main rationale behind the expansions was to compete with Incheon International Airport and Hong Kong International Airport as a gateway to Asia, as Tokyo area airports were severely congested. Kansai saw an 5% year-on-year increase in international traffic in summer 2013, largely supported by low-cost carrier traffic to Taiwan and Southeast Asia overcoming a decrease in traffic to China and South Korea.
The airport authority was allotted 4 billion yen in government support for fiscal year 2013, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Ministry of Finance have agreed to reduce this amount in stages through fiscal year 2015, although local governments in the Kansai region have pressed for subsidies.
Kansai has been marketed as an alternative to Narita Airport for international travelers from the Greater Tokyo Area. By flying to Kansai from Haneda Airport and connecting to there, travelers can save the additional time required to get to Narita: up to one and a half hours for many residents of Kanagawa Prefecture and southern Tokyo.