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Navy defends Atsugi night landing practice

Japanese officials complain practice is noisy, dangerous

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Eight Japanese elected officials have protested the Navy’s plans to practice nighttime aircraft landings around Naval Air Facility Atsugi this week, calling the operation noisy and dangerous.

In a letter given to U.S. military and Japanese government officials last week, seven city mayors and Kanagawa’s governor called for shifting all night-landing practice to remote Iwo Jima island, saying Atsugi-area residents “suffer from the noise problem every day.”

The Navy takes noise “very seriously,” according to a Commander, Naval Forces Japan news release. But Carrier Air Wing 5 needs NAF Atsugi both to practice and as a fallback in case of bad weather or other problems on Iwo Jima, the release stated.

Japanese officials have protested night-landing practice for years because it generates a number of noise complaints around the populous Atsugi area. Repeatedly, they’ve asked the Navy to hold all such practice on isolated Iwo Jima, where the Navy currently conducts “the maximum number of operations possible,” according to the release.

Iwo Jima’s location more than 600 miles from Atsugi, the air wing’s home, plus the island’s changeable weather and lack of alternative runways are safety concerns, the release stated.

Practicing “touch and go’s” on an aircraft carrier at night is safer when more runways are available in case a landing is diverted, said CNFJ spokesman Cmdr. David Waterman.

Atsugi also can better handle the large number of pilots needing to meet flight qualifications or practice before their “blue water operations,” Waterman said.

Fuel limitations mean “pilots can only make one or two passes at Iwo Jima” before they have to turn around, he said. “Since Atsugi is so much closer, pilots don’t have to go up and down as much and can get qualified faster.”

To mitigate noise at Atsugi, the Navy restricts the use of afterburners, number of aircraft in a pattern, jet engine testing at certain times and training on weekends and holidays, the release stated. The Navy also will try to confine noisier planes to Iwo Jima during the night-landing practice, the release stated.

Such efforts helped reduce complaints from a high of 222 to single digits in recent years in Yamato city, which is in Atsugi’s flight path, said Takashi Yawaka, Yamato’s military affairs division chief. Yamato’s mayor was one of those who signed the protest letter.

But even the “quiet” planes sound off at more than 90 decibels, comparable to a large truck, Yawaka said. Other planes reach 110 decibels, the volume of Japan’s bullet train or a blast from a car horn, he said. Yamato residents say their windows shake when jets are flying, he said.

The officials are protesting so many flights in a densely populated area, he said. “It is dangerous for them to fly in the area.”

The Navy will run NLP at Iwo Jima from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and during the same times at Atsugi on Thursday and Friday. In a contingency, NLP also could be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Misawa Air Base, Yokota Air Base and/or Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

NLP will continue to be held at Atsugi and Iwo Jima until a permanent site is identified, the Navy release stated.


Eight opposed

Eight Japanese politicians signed a letter protesting plans to hold night-landing practice at Naval Air Facility Atsugi this week. The letter was handed to U.S. military and Japanese government officials last week. Signing the letter were:

  • Shigefumi Matsuzawa, governor of Kanagawa prefecture
  • Kimiyasu Tsuchiya, mayor of Yamato city
  • Seijiro Kasama, mayor of Ayase city
  • Katsuo Yamamoto, mayor of Fujisawa city
  • Isao Ogawa, mayor of Sagamihara city
  • Masaru Uchino, mayor of Ebina city
  • Katsuji Hoshino, mayor of Zama city
  • Hiroshi Nakada, mayor of Yokohama city

— Stars and Stripes

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