S. Korea seeks to build new Busan airport as country’s first ‘floating airport’

SEOUL-- South Korea plans to build the nation's first floating airport in the southern port city of Busan by 2035 in a move to handle growing air traffic demand in the region and to seek balanced development across the country, the land ministry said Tuesday.

Last year, the National Assembly approved a bill on a major state project to build the new airport on Gadeok Island, the biggest island of Busan, and the government has carried out a preliminary feasibility study on the project.

According to the detailed plan announced by the land ministry on Tuesday based on the research results, the new facility will be an offshore airport, which is to be built on a floating structure at sea, and it will require a budget of 13.7 trillion won (US$10.97 billion).

The decision to build on a floating structure was made in consideration of noise pollution in nearby areas and the possibility of expanding the facility in the future, the ministry said.

The new airport would be used only for international flights, with the current Gimhae airport, also located in Busan, to be operated as a domestic airport, and it is forecast to handle some 23.36 million passengers and 286,000 tons of cargo in 2065, the study showed.

The government is also planning to make a free trade zone in the surrounding site with a goal to turn it into an international logistics hub.

To expedite the construction procedures, the government is pushing to skip a preliminary feasibility study, and a review committee under the finance ministry will make a final decision on the exemption later this week.

The land ministry plans to begin drawing a detailed construction plan within this year following an environment survey. If the process goes without a hitch, the construction is expected to kick off in 2025, and the new airport will be put into operation in June 2035.

But long-drawn controversies surrounding the project could continue, as lawmakers in the region have claimed that the central government's plan requires more budget and time.

Critics say the new facility is not economically feasible and would negatively affect the environment in the region.

The debate on the issue dates back nearly 10 years.

The liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration (2003-2008) first proposed the construction project to disperse the growing air traffic to and from Gimhae International Airport in Busan, the only international airport in the region, deemed almost saturated.

The conservative Park Geun-hye government pushed for a project that would expand the existing Gimhae airport in Busan, but a state committee under the current Moon Jae-in administration virtually aborted it after reviewing its feasibility.

Then ruling party lawmakers proposed constructing a new airport on Gadeok and have pushed to expedite the project.

"The Gadeokdo new airport is necessary to seek a balanced national development and to boost the Busan, Ulsan and North Gyeongsang Province regions," President Moon Jae-in was quoted by presidential spokesperson Park Kyung-mee as saying.

It will be a core facility to make the region a major mega city in the Northeast Asian region, Moon said, voicing hope for active roles by the incoming government.

Source: Yonhap News Agency