KOMATSU, Ishikawa Pref. – The Air Self-Defense Force on Friday kicked up a local controversy by asking the mayor here to let it resume lunchtime flight training in the area, an activity that has been suspended for 27 years.
Shigemichi Saeki, head of the Osaka Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureau, handed a letter containing the request to Mayor Toru Nishimura at Komatsu City Hall.
Base officials say they need to restart training between noon and 1 p.m. because the facility, which doubles as a civilian airport, is congested. They argue that the number of commercial departures and arrivals at Komatsu airport has quadrupled since 1975, and unless the ASDF resumes training during lunch hour, the risk of collisions between military and civilian aircraft will rise.
The base is also considering lifting a self-imposed ban on formation flights over downtown areas, which usually involves flying in pairs, because, officials claim, noise from the planes has been squelched by the introduction of F-15 fighters.
During their meeting, Nishimura thanked Saeki for the ASDF’s efforts to observe the accord on flight restrictions, reached in 1975 between local municipalities along the Sea of Japan coast and the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.
The pact stipulates that the ASDF’s Komatsu base refrain from conducting flight training in the early morning, at night and during lunchtime.
“I will respond to the request after listening to the opinions of the public and city assembly members,” the mayor said.
But the request is expected to be opposed by local residents, who have filed damages suits against the state over noise pollution.
In March, the Kanazawa District Court ordered the government to pay local residents some 810 million yen in compensation.
Kuraishi Kawamoto, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the damages suits, suggested there is an alternative to lunchtime flights.
“If the ASDF wants to guarantee air safety,” he said, “it should reduce flight training time.”
Haruo Yuasa, 69, one of the plaintiffs in a noise pollution suit, said the ASDF is acting arrogantly.
“The ASDF does not care about the people’s will or judicial judgment,” Yuasa said. “I cannot forgive it, because its attitude represents fascism and reminds me of Japan’s prewar period.”
Reiko Samizo, an official of the Osaka defense facilities bureau, said the base’s request for eased flight restrictions has been studied for three or four years and that its timing after the March court ruling is coincidental.
Samizo also said the ASDF takes the ruling seriously and is asking for the resumption of lunchtime training only because it feels so strongly about air safety.
“As long as the airport exists, there will always be a noise problem,” Samizo said.
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