U.S. Navy uses Ishigaki Airport despite local opposition

U.S. Navy uses Ishigaki Airport despite local opposition

At 1:15pm on March 13, a HH-60H helicopter arrived at Ishigaki Airport. A civilian aircraft is visible in the background.

March 14, 2012 Ryukyu Shimpo

An HH-60H helicopter and a C-12 fixed wing aircraft belonging to the U.S. naval forces in Japan, landed at Ishigaki Airport, a civilian facility, on March 13. Five military personnel transferred from the C-12 to the helicopter, and flew to a U.S. naval vessel. The HH-60H helicopter is used to transport the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet and it is possible that he was on board. Although the Okinawa Prefectural Government (OPG) and Ishigaki City authorities had requested that the U.S. military refrain from using the airport except in emergency situations, the U.S. naval forces went ahead and used it. Peace groups held protest rallies around the airport to oppose its use by the military. This is the first time that U.S. military aircraft have arrived at the airport since November 2008.

The HH-60H helicopter landed at the airport at 12:45pm, about 30 minutes earlier than the time the U.S. military had told the OPG. The helicopter was seen circling over the surrounding urban area before landing. After five personnel transferred to the helicopter, it took off from the airport at around 1:50pm.

The C-12 flew from the Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture and arrived at Ishigaki Airport at around 1:23pm. The aircraft transferred personnel to the helicopter and then flew back to Atsugi before 2:00pm.

Wataro Rai, who belongs to RIMPEACE, a citizen group that monitors the movement of U.S. forces in Japan, said, “I suspect that the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, who had been in Atsugi, flew to the U.S.S. Blue Ridge, which is deployed in the East China Sea, via Ishigaki Airport. It is very likely that the U.S. Navy used the airport because it is the nearest airport to the Blue Ridge.”

Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama said, “Military use of the airport is unacceptable.” He went on to say, “As it stands at the moment, U.S. forces use the airport even though we request them to refrain from using it. We need to request that the Japanese and U.S. governments not only prohibit U.S. forces from using the airport but also drastically revise the Status of Forces Agreement, which permits the military use of civilian airports.”

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, there was no impact on flights of civilian airplanes.

Okinawa governor expresses dismay at the incident
With regard to an HH-60H helicopter and a C-12 fixed wing aircraft of the U.S. naval forces using Ishigaki Airport, Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima said, “It is unfortunate that U.S. forces used the Ishigaki Airport despite our repeated requests for them to refrain from using civilian airports.” He went on to say, “I strongly request that the U.S. forces do not to use civilian airports except in emergency situations. We need to ensure that there are smooth and safe flights of civilian aircraft.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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