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Japan and the United States are considering downsizing a planned military-civilian airport off Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, sources close to bilateral relations said Thursday.

But the prefecture may not agree because a scaled down airport would not be able to accommodate commercial aircraft, a condition Okinawa set in exchange for approving the original relocation plan. The Futenma base is mainly for helicopters.

The plan would involve trimming the offshore runway off Nago’s Henoko district to about 1,300 meters from the initially planned 2,000 meters. If the two countries can officially agree, Tokyo hopes to obtain consent from the prefecture by year’s end, the sources said.

The new plan would shorten the yet-to-start construction period to five years from 12 1/2, allowing the Futenma base site to be returned to Japan sooner, they said.

The proposal also calls for filling in the sea area up to 4 meters deep, more shallow and closer to shore than the original plan, meaning the airport would have less impact on the marine environment, the sources said.

The proposed changes do not contradict the 1996 Japan-U.S. accord to relocate the Futenma Air Station to an area off the east coast of Okinawa’s main island.

The new plan is based on a proposal made in June by local assembly members as well as construction companies in northern Okinawa. The U.S. has shown strong interest in the proposal, the sources said.

Based on the 1996 accord, Japan decided in 1999 to relocate the base off Henoko.

Tokyo has been seeking alternatives to its original plan due to objections from Henoko’s residents and has suggested the base be relocated to the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago.

But the U.S. has opposed this idea because such a relocation might hamper marine training, the sources said.

Moving the helicopter operations to the U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa has also been floated as an option, but the U.S. side ruled that out as it would force the relocation of a U.S. Air Force F-15 unit out of Kadena, they said.

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