Osaka International Airport or Osaka-Itami International Airport is the primary domestic airport for the Kansai region of Japan, including the major cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. It is classified as a first class airport.
The airport is often called Itami Airport because most of its land is located in Itami, Hyōgo Prefecture. The terminal complex is located in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, and the only access from the Itami side is via a long tunnel that passes below the runway and apron. A portion of the airport property is in Ikeda, Osaka.
Despite its "international" designation, the airport's scheduled passenger air traffic is entirely domestic. Kansai International Airport (27 mi (43 km) away) took over Osaka's international traffic in 1994 and competes with Itami for domestic traffic. Itami also faces competition from Kobe Airport (16 mi (26 km) away), a smaller domestic airport opened in 2006, nevertheless in FY2006 Itami was Japan's 3rd busiest airport and the Kansai region's busiest.
During 2005, this airport had 66,259 aircraft movements (32 cities). The total number of passengers was 18,948,300. Freight volume was at 154,412 metric tons total.
Itami Airport opened as No. 2 Osaka Airport in 1939. Prior to the opening of Itami, Osaka was served by seaplanes which used an airport at the mouth of the Kizu River. In 1931, the Osaka municipal government drafted plans to construct a new "No. 1 Osaka Airport" near the mouth of the Yamato River, also targeted at seaplanes, but concerns about fog and protests from Kobe-based businesses led the government to build the "No. 2 Airport" for land-based aircraft instead. The new airport was primarily used by the Imperial Japanese Army during its early years.
U.S. occupation forces took over Osaka Airport after the end of World War II in 1945, renaming it Itami Air Base. In 1954, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio stopped at Itami during their honeymoon, and in 1956, the base was used in the filming of the movie Sayonara.
Itami was renamed Osaka Airport following its return to Japanese control in 1958, and officially became an international airport in 1959. In its heyday Itami was served by a variety of major international carriers, including Pan Am, United, British Airways, Air India, Cathay Pacific and Korean Air. Northwest Airlines briefly operated a New York-Itami-Sydney route in the early 1990s, which raised Japanese protest because less than 30% of passengers on the Australia-Japan segment were originating in the U.S.
While Japan's economy was growing rapidly, the area around Itami Airport became an increasingly dense residential area for commuters to Osaka. A number of factors made the airport an intensely-debated political issue in the 1960s and 1970s, among them:
* The introduction of jet aircraft made noise and air pollution a growing concern among locals.
* The United States Armed Forces had rights to use Itami Airport for refueling and maintenance, and frequently sent military aircraft there for overhauls at the ShinMaywa Industries plant there. This activity caused consternation among locals who were opposed to the Vietnam War.
In 1966, the Japanese government obtained additional land in order to expand the airport to handle Expo 70 traffic. As part of the negotiations to obtain this land, the government agreed with the locals to impose additional restrictions on operations at Itami. By the mid-1970s, the airport was subject to extensive slot restrictions, with operations limited to 200 jets and 170 propeller aircraft per day, and no takeoffs or landings allowed after 9 PM. These restrictions led the major domestic airlines to adopt more widebody aircraft in ultra-high-density configurations on Itami routes. The introduction of these widebodies caused additional concern among locals who protested the increased pollution and greater dangers in the event of a crash.
Local groups sued the Japanese government in 1969 for damages stemming from past noise and air pollution; the Supreme Court of Japan finally ruled in 1981 that the residents were entitled to such damages.
Because of the political friction surrounding Itami, planners began work in the 1970s to relocate many of its flights to an offshore location. This plan led to the opening of Kansai International Airport in 1994 on an artificial island in Osaka Bay.
There were originally plans to close Itami Airport following the opening of Kansai, but nearby communities opposed such a move for economic reasons, so Itami was retained as a domestic-only airport after Kansai opened in 1994.
The only international passenger flights to use Itami since 1994 have been in connection with state visits. Air Force One visited Itami in November 2005, and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao landed at Itami in April 2007. All Nippon Airways retains a large maintenance base at Itami which occasionally services aircraft ferried in from overseas without passengers, and some international cargo flights continue to use the airport as well.
The Japanese government has taken further moves to limit operations at Itami in order to spur development at Kansai and Kobe. Aircraft with more than two engines were banned from Itami effective April 2006. The government proposed changing Itami's status from first-class airport to second-class airport, which would saddle local governments with one-third of its operating costs; after protests from the surrounding local authorities, the national government withdrew this proposal. The government also proposed banning widebody aircraft from Itami, although this proposal was criticized as unrealistic given the volume of traffic there.