Japan Today



Is U.S. military control of airspace to blame for high cost of flying in Japan?


When passenger aircraft departing from Kansai head in the direction of Tokyo's Haneda airport, they take a convoluted route, first flying 50 kilometers south of the airport and then circling around the Boso Peninsula (Chiba) before turning left and flying toward Haneda.

Why? Shukan Gendai (Dec 15) states that one obvious answer is that aircraft are not permitted to fly over central Tokyo at low altitudes. But this is not the only reason. As Koji Yabe -- author of a book from Kodansha Gendai Shinsho titled "You need to know how Japan lost control" -- puts it: "The airspace above Tokyo is controlled by the U.S. military, and Japanese civilian aircraft can't enter it without permission of the U.S. military. But since the major carriers JAL and ANA cannot keep requesting permission for each individual flight, they instead take an extremely unnatural detour to their destination."

The Yokota airspace, centered on the air above Yokota Air Base in Fussa City, a suburb west of Tokyo, extends over parts of Tokyo and eight other prefectures: Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Saitama, Yamanashi, Gunma, Tochigi, Nagano and Niigata -- almost as far as the Sea of Japan, and covering altitudes in six stages ranging from a maximum of 7,000 meters to a minimum of 2,400 meters.

How did this bizarre situation come to pass?

"Actually until 1960, when then-Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi negotiated a revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, all of Japan's airspace was under U.S. military control," said Yabe. "Complaining that this arrangement was 'unfair,' in 1959, the decision was made to request that control of all airspace revert to Japan. But the U.S. side argued that as long as it maintained its bases in Japan, their presence would be meaningless unless its planes could have free access. So a secret pact was concluded that excepted airspace in areas proximate to the U.S. bases. And since the word "proximate" is vague, the total area controlled by the U.S. came to be expanded.

"For example, a flight between Haneda and Osaka's Itami airport, which presently takes 50 minutes, would require only 40 minutes if the planes did not have to detour away from the Yokota airspace," Yabe added. "This also requires the jet to achieve a higher altitude more quickly after takeoff, adding to the fuel consumption -- which of course is borne by passengers."

Shukan Gendai explains yen per gallon of aviation fuel, a flight of 50 minutes will consume approximately 900,000 yen worth of fuel. If the flight time can be reduced by 10 minutes (600 seconds), that would result in savings of 180,000 yen. On a flight carrying 300 passengers, that would mean a savings of 600 yen per person. Without having to bother with the Yokota airspace, this would lead to a corresponding reduction in ticket prices.

What's more, making more flights from Haneda and Narita to take a detour to the south aggravates air traffic congestion, raising the risks of accident. Even in the case of sudden unfavorable weather conditions, such as thunderstorms or hail, for example, the control tower will instruct pilots to "Stay on course, and keep out of the Yokota airspace."

Yabe finds it hard to conceal his indignation. "In addition to being the only capital city in any country in the world whose airspace is under control of a foreign military, Japanese planes are only accorded a few minutes of freedom over a small portion of their route. This gives you an idea of what an abnormal situation Japan is facing."

The article concludes that Okinawa is not the only part of Japan that's obliged to deal with U.S. base-related problems.

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As for the article, an extra 10 mins. to fly Tokyo, BFD. And Yokota isn't to blame for the even more obscene shinkansen or expressway costs. Domestic travel in Japan is/always has been outrageous. It's cheaper for Asians to visit cities in Japan on inbound flights than it is for those of us who live here to travel around Japan. I can fly to Taiwan or Hong Kong more cheaply than to Chitose.

15 ( +15 / -0 )

“How did this bizarre situation come to pass?”

Somebody needs to open a history book.....

6 ( +6 / -0 )

NCIS, I think she means Obuchi who lay in a coma for an extended period, fueling all kinds of theories from the lunatic fringe.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Is U.S. military control of airspace to blame for high cost of flying in Japan? - Headline

No-fly-zones imposed for security purposes are built into CASM (cost per available seat mile). If the premise were true, how do LCC's even make money, undercutting the majors on ticket price in key market segments of their business models? Too simplistic and taxing on readers' intelligence. I'd suspect the writer's primary purpose is to be bring forth an anti-military (US or JSDF) issue.

KUCHIKOMI pens many interesting articles; this one is a miss.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Interesting. Sounds plausible too.

The headline is sensationalist as ever. I bet mismanagement by JAL and ANA costs more than 600 yen a flight.

4 ( +10 / -6 )

The headline is sensationalist as ever.

That's an understatement.

Not to mention, the savings would be... 600 yen? Wow, so much for my next trip to Japan, no way I can afford that extra 6 bucks.

There's a bit more to it than just 'the airspace above Tokyo is controlled by the US' and more and more of it is being reverted to Japanese control. The author wants you to believe the entire sky above Tokyo is controlled by another government and that is just not true.


2 ( +8 / -6 )

Not to mention, the savings would be... 600 yen? 

That's assuming every seat is filled. The cost to the airlines is the same irrespective of booking status.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Also means that there is very little chance of an airplane crashing down on to crowded Tokyo and nearby housing areas and causing a disaster. A bonus for all who live there. US Military airplanes excepted of course.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If you indeed "reject globalism," then remove your military bases around the world.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Don't like it? Don't start a world war, and, if you start it, make you at least you win... Complaining to USA for the situation is at least dumb. You should complain to the politicians that brought Japan in this situation.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Betteridge's law of headlines is an adage that states: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."

It's not like flights from New Chitose to cities other than Tokyo are cheap.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Speaking for myself, I would be very happy if Americans were not stationed in Japan, Korea, or Okinawa. Not sure that that would be in the best interest of Japanese and South Korean civilians, who currently enjoy freedoms and economic security not enjoyed by most of the rest of the world.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

how do LCC's even make money

As long there are some passengers willing to go using LCC's flight, LCC will make money, beside that other airline companies facing the same underlying constraint to not use that airspace. 

Whether LCC passenger can pay less ticket if that airspace isn’t exist, yes that can pay even less.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

From flight cost perspective it will be more efficient if those airspace doesn’t. Same as lot of road network that will use tunnel through the mountain instead going around or over the mountain.

You can see that airspace looks like:


0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think all US military should leave Japan. Why is the US still protecting Japan, one of the richest countries in the world, 73 years after the end of the war? Let Japan defend itself if it wants to. Same goes for Korea.

I do have sympathies with the above comment. The USA commits a great deal of money, personnel, and resources towards defending Japan, frees up the cost that the Japanese tax payer would have to pay and secures Japan s security.

In return many Japanese just seem to moan, complain, whunge, file compensation claims (often over the top claims) for any accident, and generally seem to resent their presence, some even calling it an occupation. It allows Japan to act like spoilt little children.

It also allows Japan to rather arrogantly demand territory it claims is their's.

This is why I feel that the USA military should stay in Japan. I just don't think that Japan is ready to be let off the leash.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Dont forget the Chinese navy in Senkaku.. just around the corner..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is a relatively small burden on domestic travel compared to, for example, the extortionate fees charged by Haneda in order to maintain its status as a lucrative retirement home for amakudari Transportation Ministry bureaucrats.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Blame the generation that brought Japan into armed conflict with the USA for today's situation, not the US military. December 7th, 1941 changed everything for Japan.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

@NCIS reruns

if the flight isn’t full enough, they will cancel it. Even if you have to pay 10 times that, it’s still only an additional 60 bucks. That is hardly the conspiracy that this article makes it out to be.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Worse than the logic of this airspace is the censorship of the truth. History has a funny way of repeating its self.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If restrictions on the movement of civilian planes over Tokyo is a real problem, then maybe it is time to look into moving American airbases away from the most populated areas in Japan, if that is even possible.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I think all US military should leave Japan. Why is the US still protecting Japan, one of the richest countries in the world, 73 years after the end of the war? Let Japan defend itself if it wants to. Same goes for Korea.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Okinawa is not the only part of Japan that's obliged to deal with U.S. base-related problems.

Of course the rest of Japan bears more burden than Okinawa.  It's just that in relation to the area, Okinawa burden becomes bigger.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

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