The US may give some of the Yokota airbase back to Japan. The issue is airspace rather than land:
Each day, about 470 commercial flights in and out of Haneda and Narita airports must take alternate routes to avoid airspace controlled by the U.S. military’s Yokota airbase, according to a calculation by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
Some flights detour around the space and others make steeper ascents than needed.
The number of flights affected will rise to about 650 in 2009 with more traffic at the airports, the study said.
The extra fuel cost is 8 billion yen a year, likely to climb to 10.9 billion yen in 2009.
If a southern section of the airspace were returned to Japan, the extra cost and the flight times could be minimized, the report said.
While Japan’s population isn’t rising, the number of flights in and out of Tokyo is. The closest Japan has had to a civil aviation disaster since the Otsuka crash in 1985 was in 2001, when two JAL jets came within thirty feet of colliding. Tokyo Metro Governor Shintaro Ishihara blamed the strictures on flightpaths imposed by having US military airspace so close to Haneda and Narita, though it must be noted that weird ascent and descent patterns were not exactly the only problem on display:
Transport ministry officials said the post-accident report filed by the DC-10 pilot, Tatsuyuki Akazawa, 45, also indicated the two planes missed each other by a whisker. “Altitude difference little, lateral distance none,” Mr. Akazawa’s report said.
The incident occurred early Wednesday evening. The Boeing Flight 907 was ascending to a cruising altitude of 11,300 meters, while the DC-10 Flight 958 was descending from 11,900 meters to prepare for landing at the New Tokyo International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, transport ministry officials said.
Both planes were equipped with the Traffic Collision Avoidance System, a computerized device that would alert pilots when they were flying too close to each other.
Ministry officials said air traffic communications records kept at the Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center, based in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, show that air traffic controllers repeatedly used wrong flight numbers in telling the pilots of the two airplanes to change course.
The official in charge of the two flights, a 26-year-old man in his third year of training as an air traffic controller, first realized that the flight paths of the two planes were too close and initiated warnings to the two pilots under the supervision of a 32-year-old controller who served as his coach.
According to air traffic communications records released by the transport ministry, the male air traffic controller twice ordered the Boeing 747 to lower its attitude and the DC-10 to turn right.
As there was no response, the coach broke into the radio channel and told ” Flight 957″ to immediately lower its altitude.
The record shows that the coach again misspoke the flight number when the Boeing 747 pilot radioed in that there was an alert on the aircraft’s collision avoidance system and he was descending. “Roger, flight 908,” she said, in a message meant for the Boeing flight 907 pilot.
Moments later, the DC-10 flight 958 pilot reported to air traffic control that alert also sounded on his collision avoidance system, and the trainee controller responded, “Roger, flight 908.” “The situation was extremely dangerous,” Mr. Watanabe told air traffic control after the near-fatal collision was averted. Analysts said that had the Boeing not dived to avoid a collision, “the worst ever accident in aviation history” could have occurred.
The Boeing 747 was carrying 411 passengers and 16 crew members, and the DC-10 had 250 passengers and crew members on board.
Poor communication about the collision avoidance system was the major cause of the midair collision over Germany in 2002, though the air traffic controller involved was undone by circumstances and didn’t blurt out non-existent flight numbers.
Speaking of changes in US military facilities, several thousand Marines may or may not be moved out of Okinawa as part of the Futenma restructuring plan. They would be relocated to Guam.