The emergency landing by a U.S. military Osprey aircraft on Tuesday in Oita Prefecture was the result of precautionary measures being taken against possible instrument malfunction, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Wednesday.
Tuesday’s incident at Oita Airport, which caused no injuries, is the latest in a series of emergency landings and crashes involving the tilt-rotor aircraft in and outside of Japan that have further stoked safety concerns.
Earlier in the month, an Osprey crashed off the eastern coast of Australia, killing three U.S. Marines.
“Accidents involving Ospreys are continuing (to happen), so I want safety to be ensured when operating them,” Onodera told reporters.
The minister noted he was informed that the U.S. military wants the Osprey that made the emergency landing to fly to an air base in Okinawa Prefecture following safety checks.
The Osprey is based at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The U.S. military prepared emergency safety checks for the aircraft Wednesday morning.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a separate news conference the government is asking for “thorough” safety management and further information on the incident.
The emergency landing at 6:34 p.m. on Tuesday caused a 20-minute delay in the departure of one All Nippon Airways flight bound for Tokyo’s Haneda airport, affecting 151 passengers.
The U.S. military aircraft was flying to the Futenma base from U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture when the incident occurred, according to the Oita Prefectural Government and other sources.
The aircraft’s crew notified airport traffic controllers that they needed to make an emergency landing due to engine trouble. Smoke and fire were seen momentarily emerging from the aircraft, but no one on board was injured.
Following the fatal crash of an Osprey aircraft off Australia on Aug. 5, the U.S. military again issued assurances the aircraft are safe. Last December, one Osprey crash-landed in waters off the main island of Okinawa — the first major accident involving the aircraft in Japan.
The Ospreys take off and land like helicopters but cruise like planes. They are especially unpopular in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan. U.S. forces have deployed more than 20 of the aircraft to the Futenma base.
Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force is moving to acquire a total of 17 V-22 Ospreys, which under the current plan are expected to be deployed at Saga Airport in Saga Prefecture.