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Japan seeks civilian use of US Yokota Air Base for Tokyo 2020 Games

(Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is in talks with the United States to use Yokota Air Base here for civilian flights during the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The government has asked Washington to open the U.S. Air Force base's runway to commercial flights, at least temporarily turning the facility into a civilian-military dual-use airport to increase the capital's air traffic capacity for the 2020 Games. The U.S. is considering the request, according to a Japanese government source.

Japan hopes an agreement will pave the way for permanent civilian aircraft services at the base.

Tokyo first proposed turning Yokota into a dual-use airport permanently to alleviate congestion at Narita and Haneda, the two main airports servicing the capital, heading into the games. Washington's response was cautious because the measure would limit U.S. military flights. Japan then asked to allow athletes from the U.S. and its allies use of the base. With that deal in place, the Japanese government saw room to cooperate with the U.S. on future, regular civilian flights from the base.

Yokota Air Base covers about 720 hectares in Fussa and neighboring areas of western Tokyo. The site has a single runway around 3,350 meters long and 60 meters wide. It is mainly used by military transport aircraft including the C-130 Hercules, which are stationed at the base.

At a 2003 Japan-U.S. summit, Washington agreed to then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's petition to examine the Yokota runway for possible dual civilian-military use. A feasibility study outline was set out in the May 2006 United States-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation, but was not advanced further.

Japan's increasing foreign tourist numbers has led the Tokyo metropolitan and other local municipal governments to demand boosts to the capital's airport capacity, including the dual use initiative for Yokota.

To increase international flights at Haneda Airport, the U.S. government agreed in January this year to allow some civilian aircraft to plot flight paths through airspace over the capital reserved for U.S. forces.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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