Okinawan ire rises over rise in Osprey practice flights

October 15, 2012


Late night and early morning takeoffs and landings of newly deployed Osprey aircraft at the U.S. Futenma airfield in Okinawa Prefecture are set to rise sharply while pilots undergo training, according to the U.S. military.

Such maneuvers will be held at 3.7 times the rate of practice exercises by CH-46 helicopters, which the Osprey replaces.

Practice flights using Osprey aircraft on the island of Iejima, roughly 50 kilometers from Futenma, will be 2.3 times greater compared with the old transport helicopters.

Twelve Osprey aircraft deployed at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan will soon begin full-fledged operations.

The U.S. military issued an environmental impact report on the Osprey deployment to the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, which made it public in June, that made clear noise pollution could be an issue in the early stages of the introduction of the new aircraft.

It said the annual number of practice flights of all types of aircraft will drop by 11 percent to 20,780 at Futenma. However, practice flights from 10 p.m. through 7 a.m. will rise from 76 a year to 280, compared with the number for CH-46 helicopters.

In 1996, the Japanese and U.S. governments concluded a noise-prevention agreement aimed at lessening the burden on residents living close to the base by limiting late night and early morning landings and takeoffs "to the minimum necessary."

The same wording was used in the Japanese government's declaration of safety regarding the Osprey in September this year.

But in Okinawa, where the deployment has caused an uproar, a senior prefectural official had this to say: "Can the words 'the minimum necessary' be used despite the fact there will be a nearly four-time increase for late night and early morning flights?"

Exercises involving Ospreys will be held chiefly at 50 landing strips in the southernmost prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan.

The report said CH-46 helicopters made 21,290 annual flights. The Osprey will make 20,564 flights a year after it goes into full-scale operation.

However, the number will rise at facilities that the U.S. military regards as suitable for practice flights.

Iejima island will likely bear the biggest burden because it has an auxiliary airfield.

The airfield has a runway modeled after a flight deck of an amphibious assault ship at the U.S. naval base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture. Osprey aircraft will do take-off and landing practices at the runway. The number of practice flights on the island, which also has five other landing strips, will increase to 6,760 a year from the current 2,880.

The island has already accepted a new relocation for parachute drop practices.

"We have been cooperating on the policy of national defense," said Katsumasa Oshiro, mayor of the village of Ie. "How can we agree to the increase on top of that?"

There are two landing strips in the U.S. Blue Beach training area in the town of Kin. The central government promised the town in 2007 that basically only one of them would be used. But that has not turned out to be the case, despite protests from the town.

The U.S. military plans to stage intensive exercises at the two landing sites: It has drawn up plans for 1,680 Osprey practice take-offs of landings there annually, compared with 28 times for the old CH-46 helicopters.

"I can only think the government is cheating us," said Kin Mayor Tsuyoshi Gibu. "We will consider demanding the return of the base if it keeps up its forceful approach."

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An Osprey during a test flight in Japan (The Asahi Shimbun)

An Osprey during a test flight in Japan (The Asahi Shimbun)

  • An Osprey during a test flight in Japan (The Asahi Shimbun)

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