The Supreme Court's ruling last week that refused to pass judgment on a call for a ban on nighttime and early morning flights by U.S. military aircraft at the Atsugi air base near Tokyo highlights the limitations on what the judiciary can do to reduce the noise problem around U.S. bases in Japan. The government should open talks with the United States to fully explain the plight of residents around U.S. military installations and prod it to take concrete and effective measures to reduce their hardship.

The lawsuit was filed in 2007 by some 7,000 residents around U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture, which is jointly used by the U.S. Navy and the Maritime Self-Defense Force — the fourth such suit over the aircraft noise from the base.

In 2014, the Yokohama District Court determined that local residents were suffering from excessive aircraft noise and ordered the government to suspend flights by MSDF aircraft between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. — the first ruling calling for suspension of Self Defense Forces aircraft flights since residents near air bases across the country started taking legal action against aircraft noise in the 1970s. The court awarded 6,900 plaintiffs a total of ¥7 billion in damages for the noise caused by aircraft using the base but rejected their demand to ground U.S. Navy aircraft during the nighttime and early morning hours, saying that under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement Japan cannot apply its laws and regulations to the operations of U.S. military bases in this country.