The Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a high court ruling that ordered the state to suspend nighttime and early morning flights by the Self-Defense Forces at Atsugi air base near Tokyo due to noise pollution.
The top court also denied state compensation for future noise pollution at the air base in Kanagawa Prefecture, which is shared by the SDF and U.S. forces in Japan, but ordered the state to pay compensation for past disturbances.
The latest ruling could affect similar suits pending against the state over aircraft noise at other air bases in the country, including Yokota in the suburbs of Tokyo, Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Kadena and Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, many of which are primarily used by the U.S. military.
The Supreme Court’s First Petty Bench, presided over by Justice Hiroshi Koike, acknowledged in the ruling the “highly public” nature of SDF flights at the air base, adding measures have been taken to mitigate noise pollution.
In rejecting future compensation, the top court said that “decisions on whether plaintiffs possess the right to claim damages should be made at a point in the future.”
In July 2015, the Tokyo High Court upheld a district court ruling that ordered the government to halt SDF flights between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., while ordering the state to pay about 9.4 billion yen ($83 million) in damages, including compensation for noise pollution from flights expected to occur through the end of 2016.
The high court ruling was considered groundbreaking as previous lawsuits against the state over aircraft noise at bases only accepted compensation for past disturbances based on a 1993 Supreme Court ruling.
The residents also demanded suspension of U.S. military flights at Atsugi base, but the Supreme Court removed the request from its examination.
In the latest lawsuit, the government insisted that the defense minister possesses broad discretion and operating SDF flights at the base does not constitute a deviation from his or her authority.
The plaintiffs, numbering nearly 7,000 and coming from eight cities, filed the suit in 2007, seeking damages and suspension of flights from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at Atsugi base.
The latest suit is the fourth batch of such suits over noise from Atsugi base since the 1970s. The previous three lawsuits have ordered the state to pay compensation for past damage caused by the noise.
The U.S. forces’ carrier-based aircraft are currently used for training at the base but the U.S. military is scheduled to shift its operations at Atsugi to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in western Japan in 2017.