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New Haneda flight routes causing noise over Tokyo as loud as major roads

A plane on a new route to Tokyo's Haneda Airport is seen flying over the capital in Shinagawa Ward, on Feb. 2, 2020. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

Tests on alternative flight routes on Feb. 2 to the capital's Haneda Airport have found that large passenger aircraft flying at low altitudes of around under 1,000 meters are producing sounds as loud as those observed at the side of a major road.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism found that aircraft were producing between 70 and 80 decibels of noise over some of the capital's wards. Such levels, the equivalent of noise at the side of a major road, had been recorded over Shibuya, Shinjuku, Minato and other wards, according to ministry data released on Feb. 3.

The data was collected from a total of 61 flights between 4:19 p.m. and 5:57 p.m. on Feb 2. The loudest sounds recorded reached 71 decibels in Shinjuku Ward for a flight at an altitude of around 1,000 meters, 79 decibels for a plane some 700 meters over Shibuya Ward, and 80 decibels for an aircraft at about 600 meters above Minato Ward. Flight checks will also take place on Feb. 3, with relevant data to be released on Feb. 4.

Local opposition to the new flight routes, however, appears to be mounting. Under the slogan "Let's have residents' views reflected in changes to low-altitude flights over central Tokyo," a citizens group in Shinagawa Ward held a meeting on Jan. 18 with an aim to getting a ward referendum on whether locals approve plans to allow new routes over the area. Some 150 people crowded into the venue, filling it with palpable energy.

Employees at Haneda Airport's aircraft control center are seen training with a simulator at the airport in Tokyo in December 2019. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

The transport ministry made a formal decision on the routes in August 2019, inviting strong opposition from people living under the newly planned flight paths.

Yaeko Inoue, 62, the head of the citizens group in Shinagawa Ward seeking a referendum, commented, "The national government says, 'We have received the understanding of residents,' and then it just goes ahead with its plans for the aircraft, but this is an issue that must be decided by the people of this area."

For such a vote to become a reality, a proposal for an ordinance bill would have to be directly petitioned to the Shinagawa Ward mayor, and then a vote on it would have to take place at the ward assembly.

Additionally, in wards including Shibuya and Minato, a group of around 20 residents have joined together to prepare to file an administrative lawsuit against the national government that would ask that the decision on the planned routes be revoked.

One 72-year-old resident of Shibuya Ward said, "Our way of life is threatened; there's a high risk of objects falling from planes flying over the heart of the city, and it will probably make a lot of noise." Groups are also being established in Kita and Ota wards in resistance to the flight paths.

In response to opposition, the transport ministry has since 2015 held six rounds of explanatory meetings in affected municipalities. It has also increased the height planes would be required to fly over the central part of the capital, and it has announced specialized on-the-spot inspections of aircraft as part of plans to avoid objects coming loose and falling from them mid-flight.

In response to demands from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and others, it has also done investigations into the effects on land prices around three airports: Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, Itami Osaka International Airport in the west Japan prefecture of Osaka, and Fukuoka Airport in southwestern Japan. It concluded that it could not find a causal relationship between a decline in land value and the flight routes.

Measurements of noise produced by the new routes will continue until March 11, and will be held on a total of seven days in 18 locations over February including the tests already completed on Feb. 2. It will announce the results of the tests as early as the day after each dataset is collected, in a policy that it is hoped will help dispel residents' concerns.

(Japanese original by Atsushi Matsumoto, City News Department, and Shohei Kawamura, Tokyo Bureau)

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