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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The United States and Japan haven’t reached any agreement on the possible return of Yokota airspace by the military but the issue is being debated as part of higher-level transformation talks, U.S. Forces Japan said Friday.

Air Force Col. Anne Morris, a USFJ spokeswoman, said reporting on the subject has been “misleading” and disputed statistics in a Japanese newspaper last month that claimed up to 470 commercial flights a day to and from Haneda and Narita airports in Tokyo are disrupted by Yokota’s Radar Approach Control.

A separate report last week by the Asahi Shimbun stated the United States and Japan struck a deal during recent talks in Hawaii on partial return of Yokota airspace by 2009 as a measure to prevent near misses.

But Morris said it’s among several initiatives within the U.S.-Japan military realignment report still under discussion.

“USFJ can’t speak to the content of ongoing negotiations at the government-to-government level,” she said. “However, some reporting on the Yokota airspace issue has been incomplete and therefore somewhat misleading. There are many factors that influence airspace control. Yokota airspace is one of them, but other key factors are Tokyo noise abatement and flight planning by civil aircraft.”

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman contacted Thursday declined comment on the Yokota airspace discussions.

In the interim report released last October, the two sides agreed to explore giving Japan more control of Yokota’s airspace “to facilitate movement of civilian aircraft” through the area.

According to a Feb. 25 story in the Asahi Shimbun, which cited a survey by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Yokota’s radar approach zone causes “detours” or “sudden ascents” for as many as 470 commercial flights daily to and from Haneda and Narita. It said that figure could approach 650 by 2009 after Haneda’s planned expansion.

A return of Yokota airspace’s southern portion would reduce flight times up to nine minutes and help airlines save up to 8 billion yen annually in jet fuel, the report stated.

Morris said airspace usage and control is constantly monitored and modified regularly as USFJ and the 5th Air Force work closely with the ministry, Japanese Civil Aviation Bureau and Tokyo air-traffic controllers. Since 1972, Yokota has adjusted its airspace five times to accommodate Japan’s growing commercial aviation industry, she added.

“We have not been advised of any safety concerns or near misses attributed to Yokota airspace or U.S. controllers,” Morris said. “Some media reports attribute Haneda’s departure pattern — spiral up and steep ascent — to the Yokota airspace. However, regardless of who controls the airspace, the climb to at least 8,000 feet is necessary for Tokyo metropolitan noise-abatement requirements.”

Civilian aircraft generally avoid Yokota radar approach by choice, she said, but there are established procedures for them to receive permission for flyovers. Most don’t ask, but the base granted 17,000 requests in 2004 and 22,632 last year.

“Yokota has approved virtually every flyover request and has the ability to accept increased over-flight traffic,” she said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.


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