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U.S. and Japanese governments on Friday agreed to change military helicopter flight patterns at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Safety measures were implemented based on the results of a two-year safety study initiated by both governments after a Marine CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter crashed on an Okinawan university campus in August 2004.

The study, released by the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, reports that new measures will include using the shortest route to the ocean as the main flight route and minimizing helicopter flight over densely populated areas.

Advanced technology will also play a new role in safety, according to the report. An air control data processing system and introduction of flight simulation will be implemented, while Futenma’s airfield will be upgraded with Runway End Identifier Lights.

Also, to secure a larger clear zone, an unused microwave antenna and building will be removed and tall trees will be trimmed, the report said.

While the study confirmed some acceptable safety levels during Futenma’s present helicopter flight operations, it recommends both governments implement measures to further ensure safety for flight crews and Okinawa residents.

Removing danger posed by the air station’s flight operations within three years was a 2006 campaign promise of Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps said it will remain committed to safe flight operations at the air station.

“[The] U.S. Marine Corps will continue to operate its aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, as it always has, in a safe and responsible manner that meets our operational needs and acknowledges our role as a member of the local community,” said 1st Lt. Garron Garn, a spokesman for Marine Corps Bases Japan.

Stars and Stripes reporter Cindy Fisher contributed to this story.


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