(Tokyo Shimbun: July 31, 2015 – p. 5)
The Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court ruling to cease late-night flights by Self-Defense Forces (SDF) aircraft at the Atsugi Air Base (Kanagawa Prefecture). The noise damage caused by the Atsugi base is more serious than can be imagined. Since the noise pollution mainly comes from U.S. planes, the government should hold negotiations on operational regulations with the U.S. government.
Noise pollution-related lawsuits involving SDF and U.S. bases across Japan were first filed in the 1970s. Acknowledging the noise damage to residents, courts had ordered the government to pay compensation for damages, but they had never ordered “a suspension of fights.” The Yokohama District Court ordered for the first time a halt of flights by SDF planes from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. It is of great significance that the Tokyo High Court supported the Yokohama District Court’s ruling.
In particular, it is epoch-making that the high court ordered the government to pay “future damages” until the end of 2016. As a result, the government will pay a total of about 9.4 billion yen, about 2 billion yen more than the amount ordered by the district court. The high court made the decision in light of the agreement between the Japanese and U.S. governments to relocate the U.S. Navy Carrier Air Wing Five from the Atsugi to the Iwakuni Air Station (Yamaguchi Prefecture) by around 2017.
It can be said that persistent efforts by the residents resulted in the new court ruling. We highly commend the ruling. The result will likely have an impact on noise prolusion lawsuits involving the Yokota Air Base (Tokyo) and Kadena Air Base (Okinawa).
Regrettably, this court ruling will not resolve the fundamental issue. At the Atsugi base, Maritime SDF and U.S. Navy fighters are constantly landing and taking off. However, the MSDF had imposed self-restrictions on late-night and early-morning flights since before the Yokohama court ruling was issued. Therefore, the noise pollution is mainly caused by U.S. aircraft.
U.S. carrier-borne fighter jets repeatedly make about 200 landings and takeoffs per year at the base. The SDF’s main aircraft are propeller planes such as transport and patrol aircraft. The U.S. fighter jets are the ones that cause loud booms.
The high court rejected a lawsuit against noise pollution coming from U.S. aircraft for the reason that U.S. flights were “not subject to Japan’s administrative authority.” If so, the government must hold consultations with the U.S. side. (Slightly abridged)