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Citizens group calls for gov't to stop US military's low-altitude flights in Japan

Japan Peace Committee Secretary-General Jun Chisaka is seen showing staff at the Ministry of Defense a video of low-flying U.S. military aircraft in this image taken in the capital on March 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Shinji Kurokawa)

TOKYO -- Following reports of repeated flights by U.S. military helicopters in Japan at low altitudes illegal for Japanese aircraft, a citizens group on March 4 petitioned Japanese government ministries to act to put an end to such flights.

    The citizens group, the Japan Peace Committee, pointed out that the irregular flights, which not only cause noise pollution but pose a danger in the event of an accident, have been confirmed across Japan.

    "We call for a thorough investigation into the truth of what is going on, and strongly request that the U.S. government cease the flights immediately," the group told officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense.

    The Mainichi Shimbun has reported on repeated cases of U.S. military helicopters flying in central Tokyo below the minimum acceptable altitude in densely populated areas as set down by the Civil Aeronautics Act. It has also released videos of its findings. Japan's Civil Aeronautics Act states that the minimum safe flying altitude is 300 meters above the upper edge of the highest obstacle within a 600-meter radius of the aircraft in densely populated areas, and stipulates that aircraft fly higher than this.

    The Japan Peace Committee, headquartered in Tokyo's Minato Ward, pointed out that there have been reports of sightings of U.S. military aircraft frequently flying low in areas besides the capital, including in the southwest and west Japan prefectures of Okinawa, Kagoshima, Ehime and Shimane. The group has called for a nationwide survey and abolition of special exceptions to the aeronautics act that exclude U.S. military in Japan from being subject to the lowest safe altitudes for flying.

    Jun Chisaka, secretary-general of the Japan Peace Committee, commented, "It's now clear there is decisive video evidence of low-altitude flight training being conducted regularly in the center of Tokyo. This isn't just trampling on (Japan's) sovereignty, it's a serious issue that threatens lives." He added, "Officials should accept the facts immediately, and take measures to make them stop."

    Residents in several areas across Japan distressed by the low-altitude flights took part in the meeting online and expressed their views. Ikuko Ueno, representative director of a peace committee in Okinawa Prefecture, commented, "There are fears that we're being targeted by U.S. craft, and that they might crash. Every day we have this unease. If a fatal accident happened, would the government be able to get those lives back? We want you to protect our lives and save our way of living."

    At the meeting, an official from the Foreign Affairs Ministry commented, "We seriously acknowledge everyone's views."

    The Defense Ministry is reportedly investigating the issue, and a ministry official commented, "It's not the case that we think everything the U.S. military says is right. We want to take measures that don't place a burden on the people living in these areas."

    (Japanese original by Shinji Kurokawa, City News Department)

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