Middle of nowhere

What if they built an airport but nobody will fly there.

Japan’s $268 million Ibaraki Airport is on schedule to open for business in March 2010. The hard part will be persuading an airline to fly there.

The government and Ibaraki prefecture, home to 3 million people, are paying for the airport north of Tokyo, which won’t have train services and is a half-hour drive from Ibaraki’s capital, Mito. Japan Airlines Corp. and All Nippon Airways Co., which operate 90 percent of flights in the country, don’t plan to use it.

As the global credit crunch drives Japan into its first recession since 2001, the country is building roads and airports that have helped make it the world’s most indebted major economy. Critics say many of the projects have little economic value beyond the building industry.

“The government is squeezing health care and other social programs and then spending billions and trillions of yen on useless construction projects,” said Stephen Church, an economist at securities researcher JapanInvest in Tokyo. “Ibaraki is just a small example of that.”

Japan has borrowed money every year since 1965 to finance its budget, saddling each household with the equivalent of 17 million yen ($182,000) in debt. The spending has pushed the government’s debt to the highest among the Group of Seven economies — 170 percent of annual gross domestic product last year, compared with 63 percent in the U.S., according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

No Planes

Ibaraki’s airfield will open just as Japan’s biggest international airport, Narita, an hour’s drive to the south, completes an expansion. Tokyo’s Haneda airport, the world’s fourth-busiest, is set to open a new runway the same year.

“We’re not planning any flights from Ibaraki Airport,” Japan Air President Haruka Nishimatsu said on Dec. 2. “It’s out of the question.”

His company and All Nippon have cut unprofitable local routes and slashed profit forecasts this year as higher jet-fuel prices and a global economic slowdown led to fewer passengers.

Japan Air recorded its biggest decline in international passengers in five years in September, while All Nippon flew fewer people overseas for a seventh straight month.

No major Japanese airlines flying into it, over two hours from Tokyo by car, no train service. Will the bright person or person step forward so I can give you a Knucklehead award.

I’ve been to Japan and Narita aka Tokyo-Narita airport. Narita Airport is well over an hour by car from central Tokyo, something thanks be to God, I never attempted. The very convenient Narita Express train service will get you to Tokyo in about an hour. The trains were clean and comfortable when the wife and I traveled in one back in 1994.

Nikita Khrushchev would have been so proud of the people who pushed the Ibaraki Airport project. Politicians really are the same all over. They build airports without airlines to fly to it.

Obama to Hillary- I look forward to you advising me
Lessons From Pearl Harbor