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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — An agreement reached nearly two years ago to return a portion of U.S. military airspace at Yokota to Japanese control goes into effect Sept. 25, officials said.

The move, tied to realignment of U.S. forces here, is necessary to accommodate the planned opening of a fourth runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. That addition had been scheduled for next year, but it’s been pushed back to 2010.

The United States and Japan hammered out details of the agreement in October 2006.

"It is consistent with the [Department of Defense] policy on sharing airspace with our neighbors," said Michael Bishop, the 5th Air Force’s deputy operations director and head of its aviation affairs branch. "The return will only minimally impact us, and we have procedures in place in advent of an emergency.

"With the new challenges in the cost of fuel and with consideration to the environment, the commercial airlines and the passengers will benefit considerably from this change."

Placing additional Yokota airspace under Japanese control is expected to reduce flight times, ease congestion and deliver fuel savings for commercial airliners by establishing more direct routes.

In September 2006, the U.S. and Japan entered an arrangement allowing "flexible use" of the airspace, a process that transfers jurisdiction over certain blocks between the Tokyo Air Control Center and Yokota Radar Approach Control. Under this new design, the segment controlled by the U.S. military will now be smaller.

Yokota’s primary approach control airspace, which lies directly to the west of Haneda Airport, will be reduced by about 40 percent.

This will shorten the flight time of Japanese airliners headed west from Haneda Airport an average of three minutes, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. It will save 7,200 hours and more than 8.7 million gallons of fuel a year.

Transportation minister Tetsuzo Fuyushiba also said recently the lower fuel consumption should help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 81,000 tons, or the equivalent produced by about 15,000 households.

In 2010, Haneda air traffic is expected to increase by 40 percent, Bishop said.

Yokota airspace has been adjusted seven times since 1971 to make room for Japan’s growing civil aviation industry.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

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