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Tokyo eyes nearby US air base for handling flights during Olympics

Thousands of visitors crowd the flightline during the 2012 Japanese-American Friendship Festival at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 19, 2012. Yokota welcomed approximately 178,000 visitors for the festival from across Japan. (Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse/U.S. Air Force)

American forces say they’ll consider any detailed proposal for shared civilian use of a base in western Tokyo during the 2020 Olympics.

The Japanese government has suggested that allowing civilian planes to land at Yokota, home of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force, could help increase the number of flights arriving during the games, the Mainichi newspaper reported Friday.

However, no decisions have been made about dual use of Yokota or any other U.S. military facility, said Air Force Col. John Hutcheson, a USFJ spokesman, in an email Friday.

“Any future commitments of specific US military support to the Olympics and Paralympics will be balanced against operational readiness concerns and Alliance obligations,” he said.

U.S. military and embassy officials are waiting for detailed Japanese requests related to the Olympics, Hutcheson said.

“U.S. Forces Japan is excited about working with the Government of Japan to ensure a successful 2020 Olympics and Paralympics,” he said. “When we’ve had the appropriate time to analyze these detailed requests, we will be better postured to determine how we might be able to support them.”

Japanese officials hope that access during the games might open the door to permanent civilian use of Yokota to help cope with increasing numbers of foreign visitors, the Mainichi reported.

Yokota is home to the 374th Airlift Squadron and a variety of aircraft ranging from C-130J transports to CV-22 Osprey tiltrotors.

It’s also a hub for incoming servicemembers and their families and strategic airlifters bringing personnel and supplies from the West Coast.

The U.S. and Japan agreed at a 2003 summit to consider joint military and civilian use of Yokota and the concept was included in a 2006 USFJ realignment roadmap, but discussions did not move forward, the Mainichi reported.

In March 2011, after Japan was struck by a massive earthquake and tsunami, several civilian aircraft were diverted from Narita International Airport east of Tokyo to the air base.

In January, the U.S. and Japan agreed on new routes for civilian aircraft passing near Yokota into Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport.

“This agreement reflects the United States’ unequivocal support for the games as well as support for Japan’s goal to increase tourism to 40 million travelers by 2020,” Hutcheson said.


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