Public concern is mounting over a government plan to open new commercial flight routes over central Tokyo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in light of incidents in which aircraft parts have fallen from the sky.
The transport ministry has been discussing the new routes — which are needed to expand flight slots at Tokyo’s Haneda airport — with surrounding residents for over two years. But the parts mishaps are further fanning public unease about aviation safety.
In September, a panel fell off a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines plane that took off from Kansai International Airport for Amsterdam. The panel hit a car driving along a street in Osaka but no one was injured.
In the same month, for two days in a row, panels also fell off All Nippon Airways planes bound for Narita airport.
A gathering to protest the new routes was held in Tokyo’s Oimachi district on Oct. 9 and drew a larger-than-expected crowd of around 340 people. Organizers, surprised at the turnout, had to scramble to provide more seats.
“Public opinion is significantly changing,” said Yoshiatsu Yokota, one of the attendees.
Yokota, a 73-year-old resident of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward, said the issue is now being discussed by a larger audience that includes members of a ward assembly.
Details of the new aviation routes surfaced in 2014. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry announced that arrival and departure slots at Haneda airport would be increased by up to 9 percent from the current number by the 2020 Olympics.
The new routes will be used during the busiest time slot for international flights, which is between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. The government aims to hike the number of flight slots by up to 39,000 from the current 447,000 yearly by the 2020 Games.
The ministry has held about 50 briefing sessions in Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures since July 2015.
Yet some residents appear frustrated with the way the explanations are being conducted. People are free to simply look at panels containing information about the new routes and countermeasures for noise problems. Ministry officials answer questions when asked.
To deal with the dangerous parts drops, the ministry plans to penalize the airlines responsible and create a consolation payment scheme to cover any damage. These countermeasures will be presented to the public during the briefings starting this month.
An official at the ministry’s metropolitan airport department said the ministry “wants many people to be aware of these proposed measures.” Should there be any feedback, it will also be reflected thereafter, the official said.
Mitsuo Matsushima, who has long worked in airport maintenance at Haneda airport and campaigned against the new flight routes, expressed skepticism over the government’s envisaged measures.
Matsushima, 72, said that while it would be ideal if airplanes didn’t lose their parts, such incidents cannot be completely prevented.
“The idea that imposing a penalty will solve the problem” is poorly conceived, the Ota Ward resident said.
Tsuyoshi Daidoji, 71, who attended a briefing in Ota Ward on Nov. 1, was disappointed by the ministry’s failure to be forthright in dealing with residents. He said the government is most likely concerned about the economic impact rather than safety.