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Almost a year after President Bush opened the door to studying how the Japanese government envisions dividing Yokota Air Base’s runway into military and commercial use, details are starting to emerge.

Representatives from various Japanese government ministries and the Tokyo metropolitan government, meeting to draft a plan for joint use, are calling for more than 10 commercial flights per day from the base, according to Monday’s Kyodo News.

The group is expected eventually to submit a proposal to the U.S. government for consideration.

A Tokyo metropolitan government official would not comment on the meeting or when the group may complete its proposal, saying only, “There have been certain discussions until now and certain progress has been made.” He added that Tokyo metropolitan Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has not been involved in the meetings. For years, Ishihara has vowed to return Yokota to Japanese control, calling on both governments to allow joint military-civilian use of the base as a transitional measure.

The governor said in March he thinks domestic chartered flights from the base would be possible within a year, according to Kyodo News.

U.S. Forces Japan, headquartered at Yokota, has not seen any proposal, said Col. Victor Warzinski, a spokesman for the command. “Until the U.S. government and the government of Japan can complete the study, it would be premature to suggest when, if ever, nonmilitary traffic might begin to use Yokota,” he said.

“Likewise, the United States has not made any proposals regarding civilian and military dual use and would not be in a position to make such a proposal until the two sides complete the feasibility study.”

Warzinski said it’s not USFJ policy to comment on continuing discussions with the Japanese government. He did say, however, that key to any feasibility study is a clear definition of joint use, from the number of flights and the size of jets to what kind of support infrastructure on and off base would be necessary.

Feasibility can be studied “once we have a common definition of what we agree to study,” he said. Whatever eventually is negotiated must be “predicated on the idea that we cannot compromise the military value of the base,” Warzinski said. “Yokota is a very important installation for us. It is our airlift hub into Japan.”

During a meeting in Crawford, Texas, last May with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Bush agreed to study letting civilian aircraft use Yokota’s airstrip.

Kyodo News said Japanese government officials would consider measures against noise pollution and “ways to build an airport terminal in an environmentally friendly manner.”

Yokota stretches across six municipalities. Residents near the base long have complained about aircraft noise.

“It would not serve our interest to just make a unilateral decision without gaining their input,” Warzinski said of the local mayors.

Any proposal for joint use would be worked out between each country’s national governments, Warzinski said. “I don’t think anyone committed us to go towards dual use,” he said. “We were committed to studying it.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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