Incheon Airport's Success Puts Critics to Shame

      May 14, 2010 13:24

      Incheon International Airport was named the world's best airport for the fifth year running by Airports Council International on Thursday. Incheon is the first airport to hold the top position for five consecutive years since ACI began evaluating services in 1993. Incheon is also ranked as the world's top airport by Global Traveler and Business Traveler magazines, as well as London-based Skytrax airline and airport consultancy.

      Airports are gateways to a country and represent its level of technology, service and culture. Incheon's winning the title alone has the effect of boosting Korea's image and brand value. As it consolidates its role as the airport hub of Northeast Asia, Incheon draws more than 5 million transit passengers a year and attracts logistics companies from around the world.

      The airport's competitive edge lies in its short passport check queues -- only 15 minutes and 40 seconds for entry and 12 minutes and 43 seconds for departure -- the fastest in the world. It also takes the shortest amount of time for passengers to collect their luggage. Transit passengers traveling through Japan's Narita or China's Pudong must collect their luggage and hand it over to their connecting flights. But all of that has been automated at Incheon. That is the result of constant improvements in services using the latest high-tech innovations in visa processing and customs procedures. Incheon International Airport also boasts the best transport links to hotels in major cities.

      In 1990, when the government announced its plan to build the airport by reclaiming land off the west coast, civic groups and environmentalists protested. One Seoul National University professor who is now spearheading the opposition against President Lee Myung-bak's four rivers restoration project warned that the airport's landing strips on the reclaimed land would gradually sink into the mudflats.

      Many reasons were cited to oppose construction of the airport, ranging from the danger of collisions with birds to exposure to tsunamis. As the airport neared completion in 2001, critics claimed the automated cargo handling system would end up dumping luggage at the wrong place and the airport's proximity to the ocean would result in frequent fog delays.

      "Those who were opposed to the construction of the airport were adamant in their opposition, no matter how much we tried to persuade them using scientific evidence and facts," recalled Kang Dong-suk, who was chairman of Incheon International Airport Corporation from its inception in 1994 until its opening in 2001. "The opinions of those people dominated Korean society and after a while even my own family became suspicious of my support for the airport's construction."

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