• Jiji

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Monday marked the first anniversary of the introduction of low-altitude flight routes over central Tokyo to and from Haneda Airport.

The new routes, however, have not been used as frequently as the government had initially hoped, reflecting a plunge in air travel demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, the central government is currently considering introducing measures to alleviate noise pollution, including altering the fight routes, after receiving nearly 6,000 complaints about noise and other issues caused by aircraft.

Accompanied by a deafening roar, an airplane flew over houses and commercial facilities near Oimachi Station in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward one afternoon in late March.

The wheels and the registration number on the main wing of the aircraft, which was flying around 300 meters above ground, were discernible to the naked eye.

"Flying at low altitudes, airplanes give us a feeling of pressure. It's noisy," a 68-year-old woman who lives under the flight route said while a plane flying overhead drowned out close conversations.

The routes were introduced in March last year to increase the number of international flights using the airport.

Under the new routes, airplanes arriving at or departing from the airport fly over Tokyo's Shinagawa and Shibuya wards and Kawasaki between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when south winds are blowing.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, it had expected the new routes to be used daily by some 130 flights arriving at Haneda and around 60 flights leaving the airport.

But only about 60% of the initially predicted number of flights landing at Haneda Airport and some 80% of flights leaving the airport used the routes in December last year, following carriers' decisions to cut down on the number of flights amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Most of the airplanes using the routes were on domestic flights.

"We need to boost (the airport's) international competitiveness and share the noise burden among people in the entire Tokyo metropolitan area," a ministry official said.

Many residents living under the routes are worried about noise pollution and falling airplane parts, with the ministry receiving a total of 5,947 complaints regarding the routes as of December.

In June last year, a total of 29 people living in the capital and Kawasaki filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court seeking to annul the ministry's approval of the routes.

Tomoo Sunaga, 73, one of the plaintiffs, said that even a falling airplane part can lead to serious damage. "The routes should be scrapped at once," he added.

In test flights, the noise of aircraft using the routes hit as high as 94 decibels — louder than inside pachinko parlors — in the eastern part of Kawasaki.

The ministry has set up a panel of experts to discuss ways to reduce noise levels. It is currently debating whether it would be technically possible for airplanes to fly a shorter distance over central Tokyo.

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