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Atsugi night flight ban too weak, activists say

Kyodo, JIJI

Activists demanding the suspension of nighttime flights by U.S. military and Self-Defense Forces aircraft at the Atsugi base in Kanagawa Prefecture will appeal a partial ban ordered last week, on the grounds that it is too short and fails to include U.S. aircraft.

In a landmark ruling on May 21, the Yokohama District Court ordered the government to suspend flights of SDF aircraft from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily, with exceptions only for cases the government deems “absolutely necessary.”

The activists want flights suspended from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

The lawsuit, filed by about 7,000 plaintiffs from eight cities including Ayase and Yamato, argues that aircraft noise poses a serious threat to their health.

The central government is also appealing the ruling, arguing that the SDF flights are needed to protect lives and to ensure national security.

Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Samura also urged the government to pay about ¥7 billion in damages, which the Justice Ministry said is a record amount for noise suits involving military bases.

But the judge rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for a ban on nighttime flights by U.S. military planes, which also use the Atsugi base.

“We cannot accept a decision that does not put a stop to flights by U.S. military planes,” Eiji Fujita, 80, who heads the plaintiffs, told a news conference on Tuesday.

“The real battle has just begun, and we must stay on our guard to fight seriously.”

Defense Ministry officials, on the other hand, said “the illegality” of the flights at Atsugi does not rise to the level that they should be stopped by a court order.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed over military base noise pollution in Japan, but last week’s ruling was the first to order a halt to flights.

Second drone at Misawa

Aomori KYODO

A second U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drone arrived Wednesday morning at the Misawa Air Base in northeastern Japan for a deployment scheduled to last until October.

The Guam-based Global Hawk arrived at 6:30 a.m., according to officials at the local bureau of the Defense Ministry.

The two reconnaissance aircraft are scheduled to start operating in the Asia-Pacific region in early June and engage in surveillance activities about twice a week.

They were temporarily deployed in Japan to avoid typhoons that frequently hit Guam over the summer.

The Global Hawk — capable of conducting extended surveillance at an altitude of over 15,000 meters — is a an unmanned aircraft remotely controlled from the ground. During deployment in Japan, the Misawa base will handle takeoff and landing, while a mainland U.S. air base will take control of the drones after they reach a certain altitude. Some local residents have voiced concerns about the deployment of the aircraft, particularly following the arrival of the second drone.