National

Concerns linger as tests of new Haneda routes over Tokyo wrap up

by Osamu Tsukimori

Staff Writer

The transport ministry said Thursday it has completed tests for new flight paths to Haneda Airport, which involved arriving aircraft flying over central Tokyo at a low altitude for the first time.

The tests were conducted over seven days between Feb. 2 and Feb. 12. A total of 520 aircraft arrived using the new routes, the ministry said in a statement.

The government plans to officially launch the new landing routes for about three hours a day — between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. — starting on March 29. The move will accommodate 50 more international routes per day to help Haneda better compete with larger global hubs in Asia like Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Some residents are opposed to the new routes, which pass over areas including Shinagawa and Shibuya wards, due to concerns about noise and fears of parts falling from aircraft.

A government measurement showed 81 decibels at an elementary school in Minato Ward on Feb. 4, a similar volume level to that of a busy road.

To reduce the noise impact, the government plans to have aircraft use a steep 3.5 degree approach in clear weather and when there are southerly winds. In rough weather conditions, arriving planes will approach at a more standard 3-degree angle.

Hiroshi Sugie, an aviation expert and former Japan Airlines pilot, said on Thursday that the steep approach presents a challenge for pilots. It will make it more difficult to reduce the aircraft’s speed upon touchdown and increases the risk of a tail strike, where the back of the plane strikes the ground.

“From my long flight experience, Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport used to be the most challenging for pilots,” Sugie told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “But from now on, pilots from around the world will likely see Haneda as the most difficult airport in the world.”

Kiwami Omura, head of a group of residents opposing the new routes, said at the same news conference that the move using airspace over densely populated Tokyo runs counter to the global trend of avoiding such areas. Omura also noted the risk that ice or other objects could fall from the planes.

The transport ministry says it has not received strong complaints from commercial airlines over the steep approach. But an Air Canada flight had to divert to Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture on Feb. 2 because it didn’t have approval from Canadian authorities to conduct the steep approach using the area navigation (RNAV) system, which is different from the more common Instrument Landing System (ILS), a transport ministry official said. But Canadian authorities have since then given the airline the green light, and Air Canada is preparing to use the new route from late March, the official added.

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