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New Haneda flight paths over residential areas to begin in March 2020 in bid to boost capacity ahead of Olympics

Approach and departure lanes currently mostly above water

Kyodo, JIJI

The government on Thursday announced a date for the introduction of new flight paths over Tokyo to increase capacity at Haneda airport in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics.

On March 29, planes will be able for the first time to descend and climb over densely populated Shibuya, Shinjuku and Shinagawa wards in central Tokyo.

The change could have a large impact on residents. Current approach and departure paths pass only over Tokyo Bay and aircraft are at high altitude when they cross built-up areas.

By strengthening the airport’s capacity for international flights, the government aims to raise the annual number of foreign visitors to 40 million by 2020.

The new routes will increase the number of available international arrival and departure slots at Haneda from the current 60,000 to about 99,000.

“Strengthening Haneda airport’s capacity is essential in a bid to further accept foreign visitors to Japan and enhance international competitiveness,” transport minister Keiichi Ishii said.

Sensitive to the impact on residents, the ministry drew up measures to minimise noise. These include revising the angle of approach when landing and bringing planes in more steeply.

It also addressed the potential problem of objects falling from aircraft and held briefing sessions with residents.

But municipalities want the state to do more. The ministry said it will keep communicating with residents to ensure a smooth transition.

The ministry unveiled the new routes in 2014. On Wednesday, the government met with officials of prefectural governments for the first time since 2016. Ishii said he believes they have accepted the plans.

“Strengthening the function of Haneda airport is important to ensure the smooth hosting of the Tokyo Olympics,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said.

“We continue to urge (the central government) to carry out measures to cope with noise and ensure safety, and the metropolitan government will cooperate proactively,” Koike said in a statement.

In the run-up to the launch of the new routes, the ministry will accelerate discussions on how carriers are allocated the new landing slots.

Trials of the new routes will take place later this month, when the government will use a small aircraft to fly the paths and check airport facilities. Tests with a passenger plane will begin in late January.