National / Politics

Hashimoto reckons Yao Airport could be Honshu candidate site for Osprey drills


Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said Monday he will propose to the central government that an airport just outside the city of Osaka host part of the training exercises for U.S. Osprey transport aircraft.

The mayor, who co-heads Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), told reporters he will suggest to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Thursday that Yao Airport host training exercises for the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft currently deployed to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

“Honshu . . . should at least accept Osprey training to alleviate the burden on Okinawa from hosting (the bulk of) U.S. military forces,” Hashimoto said at Osaka City Hall.

The mayor 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.

State-run 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 owned by the Osaka police and firefighters.

Earlier in the day, Yao Mayor Seita Tanaka expressed opposition to Hashimoto’s idea, saying 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” that the Yao Municipal Government and residents had not been informed of the idea in advance. “I am opposed to the choice of Yao Airport” as the host site for Osprey exercises, he said of the airstrip, which is in a residential area.

Hashimoto said he “naturally expects” opposition to the idea from residents of Yao as well as Osaka Prefecture.

The outspoken mayor said Mikio Shimoji, former state minister in charge of privatizing the postal services and a representative of a political group in Okinawa, called in May when the two met that some Osprey training take place on Honshu.

The Osprey deployment to Futenma has sparked local anger due to past accidents abroad involving the hybrid aircraft. Low-altitude MV-22 training exercises have been conducted over areas extending from Honshu to Kyushu.