Kadena's 18th Wing IG addresses issue of early-morning flights
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — One graphic showed a satellite view of the Earth with a 12-hour band of sunlight across the Pacific.
Another, how far a plane could get from various area bases before running out of sunlight on the way to Hawaii.
Both were used Thursday by the 18th Wing inspector general to illustrate why pre-sunrise takeoffs are necessary for safe oceanic flights: Pilots essentially are racing the sun.
Col. Mark Arlinghaus’ news conference about Kadena Air Base noise reduction efforts was held in part to counter a common local sentiment that early-morning departures are unnecessary.
“Concerns from communities have elevated,” Arlinghaus said. “The objective (of the news conference) is to remind or to illustrate for communities surrounding the base” that flight operations are “done with the greatest of care and consideration.”
The recent fervor from local leadership about noise was touched off by a spate of late-July early-morning departures.
Bad weather and maintenance issues forced aircraft heading to a training exercise in the United States to return to base twice, causing four pre-sunrise departures in a row.
Local leaders from the three Kadena host communities — Okinawa City, Kadena town and Chatan town — met with Kadena commander Brig. Gen. Harold Moulton Tuesday to discuss noise issues and file a protest letter.
The mayors and other leaders asked that Kadena suspend, without exception, all flight activities or engine adjustments on the air base between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and alter routes to training exercises to eliminate early-morning departures.
One proposal is to have aircraft leave for exercises from other Pacific air bases, such as Andersen on Guam or Yokota on mainland Japan.
“It’s not feasible for the 18th Wing to pursue that option,” Arlinghaus said, stressing the other bases lack the “unique maintenance requirements for F-15s” and the cost to move the necessary assets would be enormous.
Arlinghaus’ presentation showed that leaving from a neighboring base also wouldn’t eliminate early-morning departures.
Pilots still would run out of the 12-hour daylight cycle — seven hours of flying time factored with a five-hour time change — before reaching Hawaii’s Hickam Air Force Base.
Arlinghaus frequently used the word “deliberate,” as in there is a “deliberate planning process to deliver F-15s across the ocean” or “there are deliberate reasons for exceptions” to the noise abatement initiatives, such as quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The early departures are “appropriate to maximize the safety of the aircrew,” Arlinghaus, an F-15 pilot, said.
Local Okinawan leadership implied in July that the successive early-morning departures were a result of careless planning and lack of respect for local residents.
“We treat the noise issue with immense importance,” Arlinghaus said after pointing out the noise-reduction efforts, such as flight patterns and a limited number of ground burst simulators, the base has had in place for years.
In the last 12 to 18 months, Kadena has conducted about 2,000 fewer departures and takeoffs compared with similar F-15 bases in the United States, he said.
“We want the communities to understand we’ve implemented many measures that they might not realize are in effect,” he said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.