In Shikoku, record number of loud, low-flying planes reported



Planes believed to belong to the US military fly over the towns of Motoyama and Tosa in Kochi Prefecture. (Video taken by residents)

MOTOYAMA, Kochi Prefecture — Repeated complaints about low-level flying have done nothing to reduce noise and fears for the safety of residents of Shikoku Island.

In fact, data collected by residents has shown that the plane, believed to be owned by the US military, is now flying in record numbers in three of the four prefectures that make up Shikoku.

In fiscal 2020, which ended in March, 345 low-level flights were spotted in Ehime Prefecture, 3.6 times more than the previous record of 95 the year before.

The corresponding figure was 278 in Kochi Prefecture, up from 163 reported in the previous fiscal year, and 75 in Tokushima Prefecture, up from 57.

Types spotted include fighter jets, military aircraft carriers, and Osprey tiltrotor transport aircraft.

The government of Kagawa, the other prefecture of Shikoku, has not received any reports of such sightings.

Kihiro Sasaoka, a 32-year-old educator in Motoyama, a town of about 3,400 people in Kochi Prefecture, explained what residents have to endure.

One day last year, a 3-year-old boy at the daycare where she works was frightened to tears by the sound of what appeared to be an American warplane.

He was so shaken up that he couldn’t eat his snacks anymore, she said.

“I don’t quite understand why young children have to be afraid on a routine basis,” Sasaoka said.

She said she and her colleagues used smartphones to film videos of low-flying planes. These recordings and other information are being shared through the free Line messaging app with residents of Tokushima Prefecture in the hope that more people will become aware of the noise problem.

“Motoyama is sparsely populated, but people live here every day,” Sasaoka said. “I want a lot of people to learn what’s going on. ”

Low-level planes have frequently been spotted over the center, seen here on June 16, in Motoyama, Kochi prefecture. (Hayato Sakata)

During fiscal year 2020, sound level meters installed at five locations in Tokushima Prefecture on several occasions recorded aircraft noise exceeding 100 decibels, which is roughly the equivalent of standing under a railroad track and hearing a train pass.

The three affected prefectural governments, in their efforts to get the central government to curb the problem, compilee statistics on observations of flying at low altitude plane that would belong to the American army and noise levels based on reports from residents and municipal governments.

The figures are released in principle after the Defense Office of Chugoku-Shikoku, a regional branch of the Ministry of Defense, confirmed that the military aircraft did not belong to the Self-Defense Forces.

Of the 345 low-altitude flights reported in Ehime prefecture during fiscal year 2020, the prefectural government is still awaiting confirmation in three cases.

The three prefectures have regularly submitted written requests to the central government for measures to alleviate the growing anxiety of residents.

Ehime prefecture requested last year that information be provided in advance on the routes and times of US military exercises, and that flights be banned near a nuclear power plant.

Observations of low-level flying began to increase in fiscal 2018 after around 60 carrier planes were transferred from US Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture to the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

“Iwakuni has become more important in terms of the functions of its military base,” said Hirokazu Honda, a former law professor at Ehime University. “Iwakuni is now hosting more exercises and there is more aircraft traffic between Iwakuni and other bases.

“And it seems questionable how seriously the central government has sought to eliminate residents’ anxiety.”

The Chugoku-Shikoku Defense Office said it informed US authorities of the low-level sightings and residents’ complaints about the noise.

“We called on the US authorities to take safety into account as much as possible and to minimize the impact on the environment,” said an official at the office.

Officials at Iwakuni Air Force Base told Asahi Shimbun in an email response that for security reasons, they were not disclosing details of routine operations.

“(All) flights performed by the air base are essential to maintain the high level of military readiness which guarantees our ability to meet our defense obligations under the Treaty on Mutual Security and Cooperation,” the email said.

But he said, “We regret any inconvenience the noise associated with our flight operations may bring to local citizens.”

THE CITY TAKES NOTE OF THE FLIGHTS

A national road crosses Motoyama. SasaokaThe nursery, schools and private homes are located nearby.

The area is directly under the so-called Orange Road for US Air Exercises which crosses Shikoku and extends to Wakayama Prefecture in the east.

US military planes fly over the city in both directions in an east-west direction.

A fatal plane crash occurred at the nearby Sameura Dam in 1994. Another fatal crash occurred off the coast of Kochi Prefecture in 2018.

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Officials use the roof of the Motoyama City Government Office to measure the altitudes and noise levels of low-flying planes. They said some planes were flying lower than the 430-meter summit of Mount Ganzan seen in the background. (Hayato Sakata)

The city government, which is keen to attract families with young children to Motoyama, is taking notes on the flights.

Whenever the sound of an airplane is heard, a government official rushes to the roof of the municipal office building to film a video of the flight.

“The frequent low-level flights and the annoying noise they make trample on our efforts to develop a safe and secure community,” said Hiroshi Hosokawa, mayor of Motoyama.

“Our municipal administration will collect information itself and continue to complain to the central government about what is happening here. “

Following a request from the Motoyama government, the Chugoku-Shikoku Defense Bureau announced that it would install a camera and sound level meter in the city by the end of fiscal 2021 in an effort to establish the facts.

It will be the first such measure to be taken in Shikoku, officials said.

About Theresa Burton

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