Japanese government proclaims Osprey to be safe, and will deploy them to Futenma

September 20, 2012 Ryukyu Shimpo

On September 19, at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Japan-U.S. Joint Committee met to consider the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The two governments agreed on a set of measures designed to ensure the Osprey’s safe operation. The measures are centered on altitude restrictions for low-altitude flight training, and the period for flying with the aircraft’s twin rotors tilted forward being made as short as possible because the conversion maneuver for this is said to be unstable. At the Ministry, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba held a joint press conference in which they declared that the Osprey is safe to fly in Japanese skies. They said that they have confirmed that the Osprey is safe and that it will be deployed to Futenma Air Station.

The U.S. Marines will begin test flights on September 21 at the Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture where 12 Ospreys remain on the ground after having been shipped from the United States. They plan to move the aircraft to Okinawa some time after September 28, hoping to start full operations of the aircraft at the Futenma Air Station in October.

At the press conference, Morimoto made it clear that the Japanese government decided to allow the U.S. military to begin operating the Osprey without local consent. He said, “The Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to fly the Osprey in Japanese skies once we have completed confirmation of the aircraft’s operational safety.” That same afternoon, Morimoto visited Yamaguchi Prefecture and asked Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda to accept the newly devised measures, and to show understanding towards the start of test flights at Iwakuni. Morimoto said, “We have found no basis for thinking that the Osprey is any more dangerous than other aircraft. The government has decided to allow the U.S. military to start operating the aircraft on the premise that maximum care will be taken to ensure the safety of local residents regarding the aircraft’s flight safety.”

The measures do not include reviewing the traffic patterns of Futenma Air Station that Morimoto had vowed would be included. The Osprey will use the existing traffic patterns of fixed-wing aircraft and rotary-wing craft for routine take-offs and landings.

Based on the descent rate in the case of an engine shutdown the authorities at Futenma Air Station require that helicopters maintain an altitude of 305 meters when returning to base using autorotation. The Ministry of Defense insists that the Osprey can manage autorotation at that specified altitude. However, the Osprey lands at a descent rate of 1525 meters per minute, which is three times greater than that of existing helicopters. It is probable that the Osprey would not be able to take sufficient safety measures to avoid a possible crash.

Despite experts suggesting that the autorotation function of the Osprey is flawed, the ministry asserts that the aircraft will not be required to auto-rotate in most cases because both engines are unlikely to malfunction at the same time.

The Japanese and U.S. governments will consider conducting Osprey flight training outside of Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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