Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s proposal for an adjacent city’s airport to host training flights involving Okinawa-based U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft would require local consent, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Tuesday.
“It is important to see (first) if there is really consent from the local government, especially in relation to the residents,” Onodera told a news conference, referring to the outspoken Hashimoto’s proposal Monday for using the airport in Yao, Osaka Prefecture.
After Hashimoto made the proposal, Yao Mayor Seita Tanaka was quick to oppose the plan, citing safety reasons.
As Osaka mayor, Hashimoto has no authority to urge the Yao mayor to accept Osprey training. But Hashimoto co-heads Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), and its secretary-general, Ichiro Matsui, in his capacity as Osaka governor, oversees the prefecture’s cities, including Yao. Matsui backs the exercise plan.
At a separate briefing Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “I would like to listen carefully to (Hashimoto’s) plan.”
Suga is scheduled to be briefed about the proposal during his talks Thursday in Tokyo with Hashimoto and Matsui.
Hashimoto told reporters Monday, “Honshu . . . should at least accept Osprey training to alleviate the burden on Okinawa from hosting (the bulk of) U.S. forces.”
He said, however, his proposal has not been “closely examined in view of defense policy” and its feasibility is not clear.
“The ball will be in the (central) government’s court,” he said.
In explaining the benefits of such a plan for Osaka, Matsui said Tuesday that allowing Osprey exercises would be useful during a major catastrophe, when the U.S. military’s help might be needed.
“I was just astounded by the estimated damage that would arise from the (predicted) Nankai Trough earthquake,” he said, adding that the training exercises in the long run will be part of “preparation” for coping with a quake.
“The Self-Defense Forces will be at the forefront of efforts to deal with disasters, but the U.S. military’s cooperation will be very crucial” in such efforts, Matsui said, adding he wants the central government to consider the plan.
Yao Airport, located southeast of the city of Osaka, has intersecting runways, one 1,490 meters long and the other 1,200 meters. It does not host regular flights but serves small aircraft, including helicopters engaged in aerial surveys and those operated by police and firefighters.
In nixing the proposal, Yao Mayor Tanaka said the safety of the Osprey, which do not need runways, has not been confirmed and hosting MV-22 training at Yao Airport could pose a significant danger to local residents.
Tanaka said it is “regrettable” the Yao Municipal Government and residents were not informed of the idea in advance. “I am opposed to the choice of Yao Airport,” which is in a residential area, as the host site for Osprey drills, he said.