Case Study – Ibaraki Airport - An Airport without the Planes


On March 11 2010, the new Tokyo-Ibaraki Airport (IBR) opened. The first flight to arrive was an Asiana Airlines‘ Airbus A321 from Incheon International Airport in South Korea. This was the first and the last flight for that day.

Let us examine this case study from the very “beginning”.  The airfield was first developed in 1937, under the orders of Emperor Hirohito. and for the next several decades served as a Japanese Air Force base. Several years after the start of the 21st century the local government decided to convert the military installation into a civil airport.

According to different sources the cost of the construction project was somewhere between $220 and $230 million.  Also, according to multiple publications, the project was completed on time and on budget with all the requested features delivered. Therefore one could come to a conclusion that from a project management point of view this project was a complete success.

However, at the time of the project inception both of the two major Japanese airlines – All Nippon Airways and Japanese Airlines – notified the local government that they did not intend to use the airport after its completion. These airlines’  decision implied that 90% of the air traffic in Japan would be absent from the airport.

Another issue that was known right from the beginning of the venture is the problematic location of the airport. It was located 96 miles (155km) from the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.  Another problem at the time the airport opened was there were no plans to offer any type of public transportation from or to the airport. It was estimated that the passengers trying to get to the center of Tokyo would have to spend more than three and a half hours to reach their intended destination.

Furthermore, the facilities at Ibaraki Airport were minimal. While the provincial government marketed the airport as a low cost airline hub, the facilities at the airport were totally insufficient to meet the needed requirements.

In 2014 there were six local and two international flights to Shanghai and Seoul running from the Ibaraki airport. This feat was achieved only after a sharp decrease in the landing fees for the airlines. Ibaraki  charged approximately 60% of what the Narita airport in Tokyo charged the flights for the right to land at its airfield.

As has  been mentioned, we can't really blame the project management aspect of the failure of the project. The team built whatever was required from them on time and on budget. And if we can't hold the project manager responsible for this failure, then who should be accountable?

The answer to that question lies in the project portfolio management domain, the art and the science of selecting the best, highest value projects for any given organization. Obviously, the wrong project was selected and implemented by the Ibaraki prefecture in the first place. If the provincial government’s strategy has been “we will try our hardest to deliver the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck” it should have asked the following questions:

  • How will the airport generate revenues for our district if two major Japanese operators, which account for 90% of the country’s air traffic, refuse to use our airport even before the construction started?
  • Would any airport located about a three and half hour drive from Tokyo attract the passengers?
  • Should we consider including some kind of transportation solution in order to get people to Tokyo?
  • If we are to target the low-cost airlines, should we include the features required by such carriers into the airport design?

Since none of the above questions were asked, the Ibaraki airport is a symbol of decades of public spending and of vanity projects undertaken by both governments and companies worldwide.

About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.