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Japan set to control commercial flight routes in U.S. military airspace over Tokyo

Kyodo

Japan is set to agree with the United States that it will control new commercial flight routes in the U.S. military-controlled airspace near Tokyo’s Haneda airport, officials said Tuesday.

“We are in the final phase of negotiations with the United States,” transport minister Keiichi Ishii told a news conference. Tokyo aims to open the new routes in the spring of 2020.

The transport ministry has been negotiating with the United States for increased control of the airspace over Tokyo and its vicinity, which U.S. forces have managed since the postwar period, to boost international flight services ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

The upcoming agreement will not include the return of the airspace to Japan, the officials said.

The flight restrictions imposed by the United States have forced numerous commercial flights using Haneda airport to detour or fly at certain altitudes to avoid it, causing air traffic congestion.

The government plans to expand the annual arrival and departure slots at Haneda by up to 39,000 from the current 447,000 in time for the major sporting events.

The United States has been returning parts of the airspace it controls to Japan over the years, most recently in 2008 under a 2006 bilateral accord on the realignment of the U.S. military presence in Japan. The return in 2008 is estimated to have allowed Haneda flights to slash some 7,200 hours of flight time annually.

The new routes will go through part of the Yokota Radar Approach Control airspace, which is controlled by the U.S. military headquartered at the Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.

The airspace, just west of the airport, includes six different levels at altitudes between 2,450 and 7,000 meters and stretches over Tokyo and eight other prefectures.

Although the United States had already agreed to Japanese control, negotiations have dragged on as both sides have tried to grapple with how to effectively implement control over flight routes, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

Since the new flight routes will be set over central Tokyo areas, some residents have voiced concern about excessive noise and parts possibly falling from aircraft.

The transport ministry is planning to hold briefing sessions for local residents in Tokyo, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures from December to next February.