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Transport ministry moving ahead with plan for low-altitude flights at Haneda

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has decided to move ahead with planned low-altitude routes into and out of Haneda Airport as part of an effort to boost the number of international flights.

    The ministry is set to request for funds in next fiscal year's budget for the construction of new facilities that are needed for the project, such as radio equipment and taxiways. The new routes are planned to begin operation around the spring of 2020, ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

    Aiming to win acceptance from municipal governments and local residents concerned about airplane noise, the ministry plans to offer subsidies for soundproofing construction at public facilities and residences below the new routes.

    Currently, the only flight paths into Haneda Airport that are allowed are approaches from the east or south. Airplane takeoffs and landings are generally carried out against the wind. During spring and summer when southerly winds are common, planes going to Haneda come in from the east and then make a large turn. In its aim to increase flights to and from Haneda, the transport ministry has evaluated new routes that approach from the north against southerly winds as a more efficient option.

    The new routes are practically straight lines from near Nerima and Itabashi wards to the airport, and would cut across Tokyo's wards from the northwest to the southeast. As planes on the new routes gradually lower altitude in their approach, they will be flying lower than the height of the 634-meter Tokyo Skytree as they pass over Shibuya, Minato, Meguro and Shinagawa wards, which has raised concerns about noise pollution and safety.

    Under the Act on Prevention of Damage caused by Aircraft Noise in Areas around Public Airports, government subsidies for soundproofing construction are provided in areas with sound pollution that exceeds a certain level and frequency. The new routes are planned to be used only between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when southerly wind tends to be blowing, so the sound pollution level and frequency will be low on a daily basis. This would limit the areas that can receive subsidies, and to address this, the transport ministry is planning on offering subsidies beyond the framework of the law for schools, hospitals, residences and other structures.

    After meetings with affected municipalities to decide on specifics, the ministry will include the costs for soundproofing survey work in the budget request for next fiscal year. The new routes are expected to have up to 44 planes using them per hour, and a ministry insider says, "Having flights focused in a particular time frame like this is something we have never done before. We have to make preparations."

    Ahead of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, the transport ministry put forth a goal in February 2015 of increasing the number of cities connected via international flights to both Haneda and Narita airports to around 140, on par with other major Asian airports.

    According to statistics in 2014, there were 92 cities connected to both airports by international flights. This is less than the 148 cities that were connected by international flights to Singapore's Changi Airport and the 137 cities that were connected by international flights to South Korea's Incheon International Airport.

    Using the new routes, the number of arrivals and departures per hour at Haneda Airport would rise from the current 80 per hour to as high as 90 per hour. The number of international flights could be increased by up to 39,000 a year. The national government has raised its goal for the number of foreigners visiting Japan in 2020 to 40 million -- twice its original target.

    A senior transport ministry official says, "We want the public's understanding so that we can boost Japan's international competitiveness."

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