Okinawa officials object to aircraft diversions to Futenma
By DAVID ALLEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 22, 2010
GINOWAN, Okinawa — Okinawa officials are objecting to the Air Force’s planned use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma as a backup airstrip beginning next month as the two runways at Kadena Air Base undergo repair.
Kadena’s 18th Wing conducted a practice run Wednesday, landing two F-15s at Futenma to prepare for the “rare” occasion a safety diversion to the airfield might be needed, according to Air Force officials
Opposition from Okinawa leaders — eager to see Futenma shut down forever and opposing a U.S.-Japan plan to move its air operations elsewhere on the island — was immediate.
“Air operations at Futenma already pose a danger, therefore no additional operations should be conducted to further burden the residents,” said Susumu Matayoshi, director general of the Executive Office of the Governor.
Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha will file a protest with the U.S. military, said Tomoaki Fukuhara, of the city’s military affairs office.
“The danger posed by Futenma has been acknowledged by the courts,” said Fukuhara, speaking for Iha. “Such operations at the air station are no way acceptable.”
In June, a Japanese appeals court ruled in favor of local residents who sued Japan for damages caused by excessive noise from the air station. In its ruling, the court called Futenma, surrounded by urban Ginowan, the “most dangerous air base in the world.”
Wednesday’s exercise was to ensure pilots, traffic controllers and maintenance crews are familiar with procedures in the event an F-15 safety divert to Futenma is required, according to an 18th Wing news release.
“At no time will both [Kadena] runways be closed for construction,” said 18th Wing spokesman Ed Gulick. “But there could be a case where the open runway could be closed temporarily for some reason, necessitating a diversion to Futenma. It would be pretty rare, but you can’t predict the future.”
The construction on Kadena includes repaving two runways, repairing runway lights and other markers, and replacing emergency barrier shelters.
Brig. Gen. Ken Wilsbach, 18th Wing commander, said single runway operations at Kadena during the construction is projected to last 18 months.
Under a 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement, Futenma will eventually close once a new air facility is built on Okinawa’s rural northeast shore. But construction of the new home for the Marine air units has been delayed, embroiled in Japan’s internal politics.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.