YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The United States and Japan reached agreement Friday on a partial return of Yokota airspace, U.S. Forces Japan announced.

According to the U.S.-Japan military realignment report released in May, the two sides had to identify specific portions of the airspace to be returned to Japanese control by September 2008, a necessary adjustment before the opening of a fourth runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport scheduled for 2009.

The deal will affect neither U.S. nor Japanese Self-Defense Force operations, a USFJ spokesman said. But 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.

“This agreement is another sign that we’re on track, meeting the requirements and working together as a strong alliance,” Marine Maj. Neil Murphy said Friday. “The redesign of Yokota airspace … will facilitate the expansion of Haneda Airport in 2009” while satisfying U.S. and Japanese defense needs.

In late September, the United States 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.

Other changes and benefits on tap in the new airspace design include reducing Yokota’s primary air space, which lies directly to the west of Haneda Airport, by about 40 percent; and shortening all departure and arrival flight times from Haneda. Flights bound for the northern part of Kyushu and other areas will be reduced by about three minutes, saving commercial air carriers time, fuel and money.

In 2009, Haneda air traffic is expected to increase by 40 percent, according to USFJ.

Japanese aircraft transit Yokota airspace every day, Murphy said. The base granted more than 22,000 requests for entry in 2005.

Since 1971, Yokota airspace has been adjusted seven times to accommodate Japan’s growing civil aviation industry.

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