February 16, 2011 12:56
Gimpo Airport has seen an extraordinary reversal of its fortunes after nearly being turned into a shopping center when Incheon International Airport opened in 2001. Once Incheon took over all the international routes, Korea's former main airport was gradually taken over by shops and facilities.
But on Tuesday Gimpo was voted the best mid-sized airport in the world by Airports Council International for service quality. In the overall ranking it came sixth after the world's best and largest airports.
What happened? The opening of Incheon caused an exodus of Gimpo's core personnel as well as a 60-percent drop in sales in the first year. "We were increasingly afraid that Gimpo would lose its function as an airport after handing over all international lines to Incheon," Korea Airports Corporation CEO Sung Si-chul recalls. "To get out of the crisis, we redesigned our business plans and directions, maximizing the advantage of Gimpo's proximity to central Seoul."
In order to shorten the time needed to get to the city center, Gimpo created a direct path to connect the airport with the subway station at the end of 2009. "Gimpo is the only airport in the world where you can get to the city center in about half an hour for less than a US$1," Sung said.
Gimpo also opened some new short-haul international routes. Over 70 percent of the passengers using them are businesspeople, for whom convenient location and fast passport control are priorities. Gimpo has started transforming itself into a business-friendly airport.
After applications for government permission to operate international routes were turned down several times, Gimpo started international services to Haneda in 2003, Beijing and Shanghai Hongqiao in 2007, Osaka in 2009, and Nagoya in 2010.
It also decreased the time passengers spend in immigration queues by increasing the number of check-in counters and rearranging passenger flow.
Now Gimpo operates 300 domestic flights on seven routes, and 30 international flights to Tokyo Haneda, Osaka Kansai, Shanghai Hongqiao, and Nagoya. The number of passengers skyrocketed since it first started operating international flights from 600,000 to 3.16 million last year.
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