Incheon International Airport opened as the world’s sixth largest cargo airport, capable of handling 2.7 million tonnes of cargo with almost two million square feet of cargo terminal space.
The terminal building complex includes two terminals, four remote concourses and the Incheon Airport Transportation Centre. Credit: Incheon International Airport Corporation.
The Incheon International Airport's Transportation Centre is the first gateway to the airport. Credit: Incheon International Airport Corporation.
A view of Incheon International Airport. Credit: Incheon International Airport Corporation.
Incheon International Airport could expand passenger capacity annually to 100 million by 2020, which would transform ICN into Asia’s main airport hub and one of the top ten busiest airports worldwide. Credit: Incheon International Airport Corporation.
The airport can service 51 cities with a population of over one million within 3.5-hour flying time. Credit: Incheon International Airport Corporation.
Incheon International Airport opened as the world’s sixth largest cargo airport. Credit: Incheon International Airport Corporation.

Incheon International Airport (ICN) ‘Winged City’ is an airport located on reclaimed land approximately 32 miles from downtown Seoul, South Korea. The airport’s two runways, passenger terminal complex and other facilities officially opened and became fully operational on 29 March 2001, making Incheon one of the world’s biggest cargo airports.

Following the completion of phase four (when the airport (air-city) will have four runways, 128 gates, two passenger terminals and four satellite concourses) in 2020, annual passenger numbers could reach 100 million. There could be 530,000 flights and the airport could be handling more than seven million tons (Mt) of cargo a year, which would transform ICN into Asia’s main airport hub and one of the top ten busiest airports worldwide.

Phase two expansion included the construction of a third runway, a terminal and an APM. The expansion increased the annual flight capacity from 240,000 to 410,000, annual passenger capacity from 30 million to 44 million, and annual cargo capacity from 2.7Mt to 4.5Mt.

Phase three expansion, which will cost approximately KRW4.9tn ($4.5bn), was started in September 2013 and is scheduled for completion in 2018. Upon completion, the airport will be able to handle 72 million passengers and cargo of 5.8Mt a year.

The ICN Terminal at Incheon International Airport

At the time of opening, the ICN terminal complex was South Korea’s largest building, with a total floor area of 5,347,555ft², 44 gates and 16 aircraft stands built on a land bridge created between the Yeongjong and Yongyu islands in the Yellow Sea.

Connected to South Korea’s mainland by the Yeongjong Bridge, Incheon International Airport can service 51 cities with a population of more than one million within 3.5 hours’ flying time.


“Upon completion, the airport will be able to handle 72 million passengers and cargo of 5.8 million tons annually.”

Phase one of the Incheon International Airport comprised two parallel paved asphalt runways, 33L/15R and 33R/15L, each 3,750m-long, 60m-wide, and 1.05m-thick, capable of servicing Boeing 747-400s and capable of CAT IIIa operations.

Currently, runway 33L/15R is used mostly for departures while runway 33R/15L is used mostly for arrivals. This is especially evident from the amount of rubber present on each runway; runway 33R/15L has more rubber on it due to the constant landings.

As part of the phase two construction, the 4,000m-long third runway 16L/34R was constructed and opened in July 2008. Landing and takeoffs of most passenger flights are done on the new runway and the existing runway 33L/15R, while runway 33R/15L is used mostly for cargo flights due to its proximity to the cargo terminals. An advanced surface movement guidance and control system (SMGCS) manipulates runway and taxiway lighting to guide aircraft to gates. The automated system is specially designed for low-visibility conditions or busy surface movement traffic.

To further facilitate traffic flows, a four-lane road for support services circles the airfield and vehicles exclusively move on two four-lane underground roads beneath the runways. An airport surface detection equipment radar (ASDE) monitors runway incursion and offers conflict alert system functions.


On completion, Incheon International Airport opened as the world’s sixth largest cargo airport with the capacity to simultaneously park 24 aircraft. The cargo facilities are capable of handling 2.7 million tons of cargo with 1,389,000ft² of cargo terminal space.

The three cargo terminals all offer automated systems for cargo transfer including workstations and cargo-handling equipment, as well as refrigerators, freezers and temperature-controlled rooms. They are operated by Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and IIAC Foreign Carrier Cargo Terminal Co, respectively.


In 1996, construction began on the terminal building complex, including two terminals, four remote concourses and the Incheon Airport Transportation Centre. The main passenger terminal is the largest in South Korea, measuring 496,000m². It is 1,060m-long, 149m-wide and 33m-high.

An Intra Airport Transit system (IAT) and BHS interface space are located in the basement, with the first floor dedicated to the baggage claim area and arrivals exit.

The arrivals and immigration areas are located on the second floor, the departure hall on the third floor and public areas on the fourth. Most of the international gates lead to dual passenger jet bridges.

To further accelerate the check-in and boarding process, arrival facilities include 120 immigration counters and 50 customs counters with 270 check-in counters and 28 security checkpoints, 44 boarding ports, two biological quarantine counters, six stationary and 14 portable passenger quarantine counters and eight arrival security ports to potentially process a total of 6,400 passengers/h. The terminal complex hosts over 195 shops and restaurants.

Control tower

Located at the epicentre of the airport, the 22-storey control tower is 100.4m-tall and is illuminated 24 hours a day. On the highest floor is a parabolic antenna, which is used by the ASDE to detect all airplanes and obstacles within 5km of the tower.

The upper floors are used by ground and tower controllers while the lower floors are mostly for support operations. The control tower has a total area of 179m², making it one of the largest in the world.

Baggage handling

Incheon Airport’s baggage handling system is designed to process 31,000 pieces of luggage an hour by using a centralised computer-controlled, automated tilt-tray system that sorts pieces of luggage with barcode readers.

The average design processing times are 15min for departure, 5min for arrival and 10min for transfer baggage. The system is completely automatic unless one of the barcodes cannot be read by the barcode reader; in which case the baggage with the unreadable barcode tag is automatically routed to a facility where airport employees read the barcode and have the baggage routed to their correct destination manually.

Upon opening of the airport, the system was found to have flaws with its automatic operation and the facility had to be operated in semi-automatic mode. The flaws have since been corrected.

Self-service kiosks

IBM installed 52 internet-enabled self-service kiosks at Incheon International Airport.

The touchscreen kiosks offer visitors a variety of customised services and applications, including airport and airline location information, travel procedure information, hotel and airline reservation systems, ground transportation information and flight schedules, as well as emergency services. They also offer a range of practical tools such as currency converters and global time zone maps.

Transportation centre

Incheon International Airport’s Transportation Centre is the first gateway to the airport situated in the central area between the two passenger terminals and comprises of short-term parking facilities for cars, train and people mover.

Upon opening, access to the airport was facilitated by the newly constructed, six-lane, limited access Incheon International Airport Expressway (Freeway 130), a part of which is Yeongjong Bridge. The airport is served by frequent bus service from all parts of South Korea as well as by ferry service from Incheon and other nearby ports.

Airport limousines operate around the clock from Seoul to Incheon and several backup highway buses escort people from places within and outside Seoul. In addition, a highway between Incheon and Gimpo Airport was completed in late 2005.

Area control centre

A new air traffic control centre went operational on 17 October 2001. The Korea Area Control Center (KACC) is located in Incheon and oversees the aircraft movements within the Korea Flight Information Region.

Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to provide a SkyLine air traffic management system adapted to the Korean region, with Samsung Data Systems providing consoles, installation and training as the prime contractor. Contracts were awarded in 1999 and at the time of the centre’s opening, the traffic control system was used to control about 860 daily aircraft movements in the region.

International business centre

Plans are underway for Incheon City and the airport to develop as a major business centre with office buildings and two airport hotels.

As ICN is likely to require around 20,000 employees, the airport is building a new development nearby on the other side of the island that will comprise 5,500 private apartments and 800 houses as well as retail space for shops, restaurants, schools and other facilities.

The island could have several theme parks, including an ecoworld, a large shopping park, a five-star resort and fantasy world park as well as a full-size 18-hole golf course.

Phase two of Incheon Airport construction

Phase two of the airport construction began in February 2002 and completed in June 2008 (the project brought forward because of the Beijing Olympics). Airport capacity increased to 410,000 flights a year serving 44 million passengers a year and processing cargo volumes of 4.5Mt a year.

Phase two entailed preparing 8.25km² of land on the west side of the airport for a 4km third runway, 1.2km² mooring facilities and a 158,400m² concourse, which are connected to the main passenger building via two parallel 870m-long underground passageways.

Numerous equipment upgrades were also carried out. They included the new ASDE-X with multi-radar tracking (MRI) function and an automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system with a runway incursion monitoring and conflict alert system (RIMCAS) function.

The installation of four additional sets of ASDE-X antennas is currently being planned to reduce blind spots brought by heavy rainfall and in preparation for the new runway.

Phase three

Phase three involves the construction of a second passenger terminal (Terminal 2), an airport control tower (ACT), an integral hotel, a conference centre, and an airside Intra Airport Transit (IAT). It also included expansion of the existing cargo terminal, apron area and transportation sections.

“The main passenger terminal is the largest in South Korea, measuring 496,000m². It is 1,060m long, 149m wide and 33m high.”

The parking facilities and train stations were also expanded during phase three.

Approximately  $4.5bn is required for this phase, which is funded by proceeds from IIAC.

The first stage of the terminal construction was completed in 2016 with the aim of serving international passengers arriving for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. The second stage, which is an expansion phase, will be completed by 2025.

Design for the Terminal 2 was finalised in June 2012. The terminal has a built-up area of 7.4 million square feet and handles 18 million passengers and 46 million passengers per annum by 2016 and 2025 respectively.

The Heerim-Mooyoung-Gensler-Yungdo (HMGY) consortium is responsible for the design, construct and implementation the project. Gensler is a collaborating design architect. Thornton Tomasetti provided structural peer review services for the project.

Rail link

The rail link from downtown Seoul to the Incheon airport is a further great boost to the airport’s usefulness. Twenty financial institutions participated in the project financing scheme worth a maximum KRW2.51tn ($2.5bn) to construct the railway link.

The 61.5km line runs from Incheon International Airport via the City’s domestic airport, Gimpo, to Seoul. The KRW2.51tn raised was the only part of the project’s estimated total cost of KRW4.4tn. The rest of the costs were met by the railway’s proposed operator, Incheon Airport Train Co, the Korean Government and fare revenues.

The Incheon International Airport railroad link to Gimpo Airport (and Seoul Subway Line 5) was completed and started service in March 2007, while the extension of Seoul was completed in 2010.

Key players

The client is Incheon International Airport Corporation. Fentress Bradburn Architects won the design competition and subsequently worked with Korean Architects Collaborative International. Parsons served as construction and project manager with Samsung Engineering & Construction awarded a major construction contract, including runway, airplane taxiway and large parking apron.

Yooshin Engineering Corporation served as consultant engineer. The bulk of steel used for construction was supplied by POSCO. Daewoo Engineering Company undertook the geotechnical investigation with Hanjin Information Systems and Telecommunications (HIST) and Thales ATM designing and installing an air traffic control system.

A consortium of Deutsche AeroConsult, Lahmeyer International and Airport Planning provided consultancy services regarding airport start-up and operations. Otis Elevator Company provided elevators and escalators for the original terminal and the phase two. New Airport Hiway operates the Incheon Airport Expressway under a 30-year license agreement.

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