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Editorial: Why did Japanese gov't allow Osprey flights to resume?

The U.S. military in Japan has resumed flights of its MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft stationed at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, even though the cause of an accident involving one of the aircraft in the prefecture has yet to be revealed.

The plane went down off Nago during an aerial refueling training flight on the night of Nov. 13, and was severely damaged. The resumption of flights of Osprey aircraft, which were suspended in Japan in the wake of the accident, came less than a week later. It is only natural for Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga to describe the move as outrageous.

The U.S. military says the accident occurred when a refueling line came into contact with rotor blades on the Osprey. It explained to the Japanese government that there were no problems with the onboard systems, mechanics or structure of the plane.

Based on expert views within the Ministry of Defense and Self-Defense Forces, the government decided that the explanation provided by the U.S. military was rational, and said notification of the resumption of flights was "understandable."

But even if there were no structural problems with the aircraft, the fundamental cause of the refueling hose coming into contact with the rotor blades has yet to be explained.

Based on an explanation from the U.S. military, an official at the Ministry of Defense stated, "It seems that turbulence had an effect, but there appear to be other factors and the matter is under investigation."

We cannot agree with the U.S. military's decision to resume flights at this stage. And more seriously, there is a problem with the Japanese government's response in easily accepting the resumption of flights. The Ministry of Defense has not actually seen the aircraft since the accident, and simply judged that the explanation from U.S. officials was rational. Is this an appropriate response for a government that is responsible for the safety of its people?

Four years ago when the government accepted the deployment of Osprey aircraft in Japan, it examined past accidents, among other measures, but it has displayed no such stance in the wake of the latest accident.

The provision of information to local bodies has also been insufficient. The fact that explanations were provided to the Okinawa prefectural and Nago municipal governments the same day flights were resumed casts doubt over the sincerity of Japanese and U.S. authorities.

It has emerged that on the same day of the accident off Nago, another Osprey aircraft belly-landed at Air Station Futenma. At the time, however, the Ministry of Defense received no word of this incident from the U.S. military. Rather it learned about it through news reports. In a later explanation the U.S. military said that there was a fault with the electrical system to bring down the landing gear.

It was problematic that Okinawa Area Coordinator Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, head of the U.S. military in the southernmost prefecture, defiantly said after the latest accident off Nago that the people of Okinawa should be thankful the incident did not harm any Okinawan people. Yet, the Japanese government did not express any sense of disappointment over this comment, and basically overlooked it.

Due to the barrier of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the problem of Japan being unable to investigate such accidents has been left unresolved. The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha has asked that the U.S. military accept an investigation over a suspected violation of the Act on Punishment of Acts to Endanger Aviation. However, the U.S. military, has apparently not yet replied.

The accident has left people in Okinawa and other areas where Osprey aircraft are to be deployed feeling uneasy, but the response of Japanese and U.S. authorities in the wake of the accident could only exacerbates their anxiety.

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