SOFA exempts U.S. pilots flying under the influence, aerobatics

March 18, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
By Yukito Toyama

U.S. military pilots who fly under the influence are not subject to Japanese law. On March 8, the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee discussed the U.S. military’s exemption from most of Japan’s aviation laws.

Japan’s aviation law provides special provisions that exempt U.S. forces based on the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement, or SOFA. Kazunori Inoue, policy chief of the Hope Party (Kibou no Tou) asked questions, and called for talks with the U.S. to make these laws applicable to its military.

A member of the foreign ministry took a passive tone and responded, “the U.S. military pays proper attention to public safety when flying.”

Aviation laws prohibits flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs; enforces the minimum safety altitude; and regulates unruly maneuvers, such as loops and aerobatics.

Owing to the special provisions, these restrictions, along with most of chapter six of the Civil Aeronautics Act, are not applicable to U.S. forces.

Although Japan’s self-defense force is also exempt from some restrictions, more rules apply to the SDF than the U.S. military, and exemptions only apply to SDF pilots mobilized during defense operations.

Inoue pointed out to the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee, “A seemingly obvious rule against drinking and flying applies to the SDF and not to the U.S. military.

” He also commented on an incident in which a part fell from a U.S. military helicopter flying over Okinawa: “The U.S. military must be subject to Japanese aviation laws, to ensure the U.S. is sufficiently aware that unsafe flying is unacceptable.”

Foreign Minister Taro Kono responded, “The administration intends to work out the various issues surrounding SOFA in an effective and swift way,” and avoided discussing specifics.

(English translation by T&CT and Monica Shingaki)
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