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Concerns grow over noise pollution from new flight routes above central Tokyo

Residents in the Tokyo metropolitan area are increasingly concerned about possible noise pollution as the government is planning to launch low-altitude flight routes above the center of the capital to increase the number of international flights to and from Haneda Airport, it has been learned.

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is trying to ease public concern by explaining to residents at briefing sessions that it is considering urging airline companies to introduce low-noise aircraft and raising the flight altitudes when making descents for landing.

    The new flight route plans came about as the transport ministry deemed it imperative to increase the number of flights arriving at and departing from Haneda Airport in the capital's Ota Ward in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Up until now, flights arriving at Haneda have mainly used routes above Tokyo Bay for descent, avoiding areas above central Tokyo to curb noise pollution.

    Under the transport ministry's plan, flights arriving at Haneda will fly above Tokyo's 23 wards from northwest to southeast between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. only when the wind is generally blowing from the south -- thereby raising the number of flight arrivals and departures from the current 80 to 90 per hour. In the capital's Shibuya, Minato, Meguro and Shinagawa wards, aircraft will fly at an altitude lower than the 634-meter Tokyo Skytree in Sumida Ward.

    At JR Oimachi Station in Shinagawa Ward, about 6 kilometers away from Haneda runways, flights descending along the planned new routes would pass at an altitude of around 300 meters -- lower than the 333-meter Tokyo Tower -- 13 times per hour, entailing possible noise pollution at 76 to 80 decibels outdoors. The noise level is high considering that the noise inside a subway train is at 80 decibels while running with its windows open.

    "For elderly residents who mostly stay at home, the noise would be unbearable," said one resident attending a briefing session held by the transport ministry near Oimachi Station on Jan. 12. A 70-year-old man living near the station said, "It worries me as the frequency of flights passing over my area is high. I want them to carry out test flights along the planned routes so we can experience the actual noise levels."

    The ministry prepared noise simulation apparatus for participants to experience the actual noise levels by using aircraft noises recorded near Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport), which is supposed to be similar to the anticipated level of noise near Oimachi Station.

    A 51-year-old man who tried the device with a headset said, "The noise was louder than I had expected, though it was recorded outdoors. My parents mostly stay at home due to poor leg conditions, and I feel pity for them if they are to be exposed to such noise pollution." Another participant, a 65-year-old woman, said, "I want them to take firm measures including noise insulation work."

    Aside from Tokyo, the transport ministry has held similar briefing sessions also in Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures since July last year. So far, the ministry has received some 6,000 opinions from residents, which are mostly about noise pollution and safety concerns.

    The ministry is considering taking such measures as reducing airport fees if airline carriers adopt new aircraft with less noise, as well as raising the altitudes for flights making landing approaches above Saitama Prefecture and northern Tokyo before landing at Haneda.

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