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Government ordered to pay damages over aircraft noise at U.S. Yokota base

Kyodo

A district court on Wednesday ordered the government to pay damages to residents around the U.S. Yokota Air Base in the suburbs of Tokyo over aircraft noise while dismissing the plaintiffs’ calls to halt some flights.

The Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court ordered the government to pay a total of about ¥610 million ($5.4 million) for past noise in the suit filed by around 1,000 residents who live near the base shared by Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force. The ruling, however, rejected the demand for a halt to nighttime and early morning flights of U.S. and SDF aircraft.

The residents had sought a monthly payment of ¥22,000 for noise damage, including compensation for suffering that will continue for as long as planes fly from the base.

In the ruling, presiding Judge Takeo Setoguchi said, “Although the operation of military aircraft is in the service of the public, it is unfair to require the plaintiffs to sacrifice.”

He added that government countermeasures such as subsidies for soundproofing of residential buildings had only a “limited effect.”

The court recognized the compensation package covers plaintiffs living in areas that experience noise at a level of 75 or higher on the Weighted Equivalent Continuous Perceived Noise Level index as in past judicial judgments while denying a claim to expand the coverage to residents living outside such areas.

The court awarded ¥4,000 per month for residents in the area with a noise level of 75, ¥8,000 with 80 and ¥12,000 with 85.

The ruling is in line with a Supreme Court decision last December on noise pollution at the Atsugi air base near Tokyo. The top court decided that a request to suspend U.S. military aircraft flights cannot be ruled on in Japan and denied future compensation.

In Wednesday’s ruling, the branch court said the government is not in a position to regulate or restrict U.S. military aircraft and future damage is unclear at the moment.

The plaintiffs expressed their disappointment at the ruling. Yoshikazu Ono, the 78-year-old head of the plaintiffs group, said, “Forcing residents to bear more burden is harsh. We may end up spending a lifetime in legal battles. Future damages should be accepted so as to lighten the burden.”

Yasuo Sekijima, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the residents’ claim was accepted to a certain extent but noted they will consider appealing the ruling. “The flight suspension claim was rejected and we are not satisfied,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Defense Ministry official said, “We considered the judgment as very tough as the court accepted part of the compensation claim,” adding that the ministry will carefully look into the ruling before making a response.

There has been legal wrangling over military aircraft noise nationwide for decades, and the state has paid ¥33.5 billion to residents living near such bases.

The Yokota base, located about 40 kilometers west of the center of the capital, has a 3,000-meter runway and also hosts Japan’s Air Defense Command Headquarters, which is in charge of missile defense operations.