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HIROSHIMA, Japan — Despite complaints from residents of several Hiroshima Prefecture communities, U.S. military officials say recent low-altitude military flights comply with all current Japanese regulations.

A “liaison group” of 17 local municipal governments in the prefecture is working to end the low-altitude routes, Yukinobu Okamoto, the group’s deputy director, told Stars and Stripes this week.

Officials at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station, about 30 miles from Hiroshima, said none of the base’s aircraft violated any rules pertaining to altitude. Iwakuni is part of Yamaguchi Prefecture, next to Hiroshima.

Each complaint pertaining to U.S. military aircraft from Iwakuni must follow a series of specific steps, said Iwakuni spokesman Capt. Stewart Upton. “We take each one from the prefecture from which it originates in a formal, documented manner,” he added.

“Just because we receive the complaint, or the media attention, does not mean the aircraft observed or heard came from MCAS Iwakuni, or was American,” he noted.

Okamoto said some residents claim that U.S. military low-altitude flights from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9 caused noise and vibrations in 11 communities, including Hiroshima and Miyoshi cities and Takata, Futami and Hiba counties.

“If the aircraft were flying in the cities as witnessed,” Okamoto said, “it was against the Japan-U.S. agreement.” In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, he said some witnesses reported that the airplanes were F-14 fighter jets.

Iwakuni’s leadership received five noise complaints during that time from Hiroshima Prefecture and no others, Upton said. The last prior noise complaint was received July 13, he added.

“During the specified period, various types of fixed wing aircraft have flown in those areas, mostly EA-6B Prowlers … using approved routes while complying with regulations,” Upton said.

“As for the route that is flown, it is an approved route we are able to fly … and it is not merely an American route. Japanese aircraft fly this route as well,” the Iwakuni spokesman added.

Statements from U.S. Forces Japan indicate the U.S. military has followed all route and altitude regulations.

But Okamoto said, “Where the noise was loudest, the schools complained that they could not hold classes.” Citing witnesses, Chugoku Shimbun, a local newspaper, reported that rattling and booming airplane noises cause a “decline in milk supply” and make “babies wail.”

Noise levels depend on weather conditions and can be amplified in local communities, Upton noted.

“So along with receiving the complaints from local prefecture governments, we do look into flights and flight routes when there are complaints of any kind,” he said. “We also meet with local Japanese government officials on a regular basis. We strive to be good neighbors in our local community and Japan as a whole.”

The liaison group created a hot line Sept. 11 to gather information on various aircraft and bolster public opinion against low-altitude flights, Okamoto explained. Meanwhile, the group is preparing a complaint and making a catalogue of photos and videos to present as evidence to USFJ and Japan’s government.

The hot line received 10 calls the first day and two more the next. “Out of the 12 calls, one was in regards to a SDF aircraft based in Kure,” Okamoto noted, referring to the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces.

“We hope to acquire a wide range of information from residents. This would be used as the basis for demanding suspension of these flights,” he said.

Even so, Upton said, the Marine Corps air station neither desires nor intends to disrupt the normal activities of people in the surrounding communities.

“We work to minimize the impact of flight training on the local population in Japan,” he said. “However, it is a skill needed to maintain combat readiness.”

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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