National / Crime & Legal

Japan's government ordered to pay residents for past noise pollution damage from Yokota Air Base

Kyodo, JIJI

A district court ordered the government on Friday to pay damages to residents near Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo for past aircraft noise, but dismissed their demand for a halt to future flights or compensation for future noise.

The Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court ordered the government to pay around ¥95.6 million to 144 residents around the air base who filed the damages suit. The U.S. base is shared with the Air Self-Defense Force.

The plaintiffs, who had sought the suspension of nighttime and early morning flights by both U.S. and ASDF aircraft, are planning to appeal the ruling to a higher court. “We see no progress in the decision. We need to keep fighting,” said 69-year-old Michio Fukumoto, who heads the group of plaintiffs.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Tadashi Mikome acknowledged the public need for flights by military aircraft. But he also said, “There is unfairness for nearby residents that cannot be overlooked. Noise insulation work by the state is insufficient as a countermeasure.”

The plaintiffs were 144 residents of six cities and a town in western Tokyo and neighboring Saitama Prefecture. Many of them are living in areas with aircraft noise levels of 75 or higher on the WECPNL scale, an internationally recognized index for aircraft noise. WECPNL stands for weighted equivalent continuous perceived noise level.

They demanded that the government pay monthly damages of ¥20,000 per person. Mikome pointed out that the government has repeatedly been sued on this issue since 1976.

The compensation covers plaintiffs in areas that experience noise levels of 75 or higher on the WECPNL index as in past judgments.

Residents experiencing noise that reaches 75 on the index will be paid ¥4,000 per month, while those in areas reaching 80 will receive ¥8,000 and those in areas reaching 85 will get ¥12,000.

In 2016 the Supreme Court said in a ruling at a similar trial that it cannot reach a judgement on whether to halt flights by U.S. military planes. It also said compensation cannot be sought for noise pollution from future flights because it cannot be assessed properly.

Friday’s ruling followed the top court’s decision, saying the government has no jurisdiction over U.S. military flights.

The district court also dismissed the plaintiff’s call for halting ASDF flights. On compensation for future damage, it said a judgment should be made when that actually occurs.

The plaintiffs had expressed concern that noise as well as the danger of accidents may increase with the deployment of five Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft at the Yokota base.

But the court said, “The risk of accident is abstract although worry and fear among the residents are understandable.”

Ospreys, which take off and land like helicopters but cruise like planes, have a checkered safety record both inside and outside the country. Yokota is the first base to see a deployment of the aircraft outside Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.