22,000 file suit over Kadena night flights


About 22,000 residents around the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa filed a lawsuit Thursday to demand a nighttime flight ban and a combined ¥44.6 billion in compensation from the Japanese government, arguing their health has been affected by aircraft noise.

In the third suit, filed with the Naha District Court, over noise pollution at the Kadena base, the plaintiffs from around 7,500 households complained that the noise disturbs their sleep and has caused them hearing disorders, according to the lawyers representing them.

In the past two similar lawsuits, it was ruled that the noise levels were beyond the tolerable limit at Kadena. However, the plaintiffs argue that having taken no countermeasures, the state must pay compensation and ban the night-to-early morning flights.

Toshio Ikemiyagi, who leads the group of lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said the suit was part of a struggle to change Okinawa’s current situation, in which it is forced to host the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

Shusei Arakawa, head of the plaintiffs’ group, said the number of plaintiffs sharply increased as the noise levels around Kadena base have worsened and residents have had their tolerance pushed too far.

The first suit was filed in 1982 by some 900 plaintiffs, while the second, in 2000, had 5,500 plaintiffs. In both cases, the state was ordered to pay compensation, but the demand for a flight ban was rejected.

According to the town of Kadena, the base, which spans around 20 sq. km, typically has around 90 aircraft stationed there.

In February 2009, the Fukuoka High Court expanded the scope of noise levels subject to compensation to 75 decibels or more as measured in the weighted equivalent continuous perceived noise level — an international yardstick for gauging aircraft noise — from the 85 db in a lower court ruling. The standard was upheld by the Supreme Court in January this year.

The plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit are from five municipalities experiencing noise levels of 75 db or more.

The government also adopts the gauge for its environment assessment, setting the maximum at 70 db for residential areas and 75 db for commercial and industrial zones.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said he will keep a careful watch on the suit.