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Kansai Airport

    Kansai International Airport, in Osaka Bay, Japan, is the world's first offshore airport. It was completed in 1994. This spectacular airport has a futuristic steel and glass terminal building, and stands on an entirely man-made island. The terminal is 1.7 kilometers long, which makes it one of the world's longest buildings. Engineers used the most up-to-date technology in creating the island and its airport.

    Why build an airport in the sea? One reason is that there is an increasing problem finding space to build large airports near cities. Another reason is to reduce noise disturbance. The new Kansai Airport lies 5 kilometers off the coast of Honshu, Japan's largest island. Aircraft take off and land at Kansai over the sea, so the airport can stay open 24 hours a day without disturbing people.

    Once the idea for a new island had been discussed, engineers drew up plans to create an island 4 kilometers long and 1.25 kilometers wide. At first they considered building a floating island, but this would have cost more and been less stable. The island took five years to construct.

    First sand and earth were piled onto the sea bed, 20 meters deep in Osaka Bay. Then crushed rock was carried to the site by huge barges and dumped on top. The weight of the rock gradually squeezed water out of the sea bed, creating a solid foundation. Computers and space satellites were used to make sure the barges and their loads were in the right place. Finally, a large steel boundary was sunk all around the edge of the rectangular island.

    A competition was held to find an architect to design the airport. The winner was Renzo Piano, one of the architects of the famous Pompidou Centre in Paris. Building work started on the airport even before the island was finished.

    Piano's company decided to build a 1700 meter long terminal in which passengers could move easily from one end to the other, from the entrance to their waiting plane. The central part is a four-storey building with a huge, curved roof designed to look like an aircraft wing. Computers constantly monitor the building's 900 columns, so that their height can be slightly adjusted. This is important, because the island is still settling and will go on sinking slightly for some years.


    The airport island is connected to the mainland by a two-level bridge, with railway lines on the lower level and a road on top. Kansai has only one runway, but can handle 160,000 flights and 25 million passengers each year. In time, the world's most amazing airport may be made even bigger and other islands may be built near to it.

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