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NAHA, Okinawa — Bad weather and maintenance issues forced aircraft from Kadena to return to the air base twice last week after taking off before sunrise, causing four successive early morning departures and triggering objections from surrounding communities about the noise.

“The early departure of F-15 fighter jets and their U-turn landings have caused tremendous negative impacts on residents,” Toshinori Shigeie, Japan’s ambassador to Okinawa, said Friday at his regular monthly news conference.

The bulk of the frustration expressed by local Okinawan leaders focused on the number of flights.

Calling the situation intolerable, Kadena town Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi blamed the need for early flights four days in a row on poor planning.

The air base had scheduled two days of early flights for Wednesday and Thursday to take more than 240 airmen to training exercises in New Mexico and Nevada.

The F-15s, which were to fly nonstop from Okinawa to Hawaii, were to be refueled in the air by tankers from both Okinawa and Guam. But too few tankers were in the theater to allow all the jets to leave the same day, Kadena spokeswoman Maj. Dani Johnson said.

The first group took off from Kadena before 4 a.m. Wednesday but had to return when lightning grounded the tankers from Guam, Johnson said. Kadena tried again Thursday, but maintenance problems grounded some of the Guam tankers. The F-15s were in the air before Kadena was aware of the problems, Johnson said, adding that the fighters have to leave before the tankers to make the rendezvous point on time.

The aircraft were able to leave about 3 a.m. Friday with the second group to follow on Saturday, bringing the total of early morning departures last week to four.

Hiroyasu Okada, Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau director, wrote Kadena asking that the base more closely coordinate with the support system for such flights before takeoff.

Miyagi said many Kadena town residents filed complaints about noise levels that, he said, exceeded 100 decibels six times on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Kadena wrote the Defense Facilities Administration to say the 18th Wing is sensitive to its neighbors’ concerns but needs their understanding because Kadena-based planes must do early morning takeoffs to take part in training in the States.

The planes take off between 3 and 5 a.m. so the pilots don’t have to fly any of the roughly 12-hour trip at night, Johnson said.

“We race the sun,” she said. “For a formation that large and for a flight that long, safety is a definite consideration.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.


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