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SECURITY > Self-Defense Forces

Editorial: Top court’ s Atsugi noise ruling puts premium on MSDF operations

  • December 09, 2016
  • , The Japan News , 8:05 pm
  • English Press

The Self-Defense Forces’ activities incorporate with the best interests of the public to an extremely high degree. The Supreme Court was quite right to broadly recognize the discretion of the defense minister.


The Atsugi base is jointly used by the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy. In the fourth lawsuit filed over noise from the base, the Supreme Court has overturned two lower-court rulings that ordered the government to stop nighttime and early morning flights by SDF aircraft at the base. The top court also turned down a demand for compensation for damages regarding future noise pollution. The high court had ordered the government to pay such damages.


The top court’s decision hinged on whether the government had taken sufficient steps to reduce the negative impact caused by the flights.


Although the court accepted there was noise pollution near the base, it positively assessed the government’s effort to deal with the problem, such as by having the SDF voluntarily refrain from making nighttime and early morning flights, and by paying huge subsidies to soundproof homes.


The court made an overall judgment on the extent of the damage suffered and the government’s countermeasures, while keeping in mind that the SDF aircraft activities are in the public’s interest. It concluded the flights, “in the context of socially accepted ideas, cannot be said to be remarkably inappropriate.” This line of thinking also will influence noise pollution lawsuits regarding other bases.


The ruling stated nighttime takeoffs and landings “could not be said to be of a low public nature or public interest.” This decision squarely looked at the reality that P-3C patrol planes and other aircraft stationed at the base undertake important tasks such as maritime surveillance and disaster response operations.


Push transfer along


The ruling by the Tokyo High Court, the court of second instance, contained many problems.


As a result of voluntary efforts to refrain from nighttime and early morning flights, SDF aircraft at Atsugi made just 53 such flights in fiscal 2014. All these flights apparently were for actual missions, mostly disaster relief operations.


Nevertheless, the high court ordered a halt to nighttime and early morning flights because “not all of the flights could be perceived as urgent.”


There were doubts about why the court halted SDF flights, even though most of the noise was caused by U.S. military aircraft. The decision to approve damages for future noise pollution went against Supreme Court precedent.


Based on an agreement by the Japanese and U.S. governments, about 60 U.S. aircraft stationed at Atsugi — including aircraft carrier-based planes — are scheduled to be transferred to the U.S. part of Iwakuni base by about 2017.


If this plan is realized, noise pollution around the Atsugi base will be significantly reduced.


A new runway at Iwakuni was built on reclaimed land offshore, which has cut noise pollution in the area. The government needs to coordinate with Yamaguchi Prefecture and Iwakuni city on issues including safety measures to ensure the transfer progresses without delay.


A major problem will be securing a site at the new location for takeoff and landing training for aircraft carrier-borne planes. The training is currently conducted at Iwoto island, which is too far from Iwakuni.


The government aims to have this training moved to Mageshima island, Kagoshima Prefecture, and is holding negotiations with the island’s landowner.


We urge the government to quickly nail down a site to which these exercises can be transferred.

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