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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 November 14 - 20  > Low altitude flights of US aircraft accepted even without SOFA stipulation
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2018 November 14 - 20 [US FORCES]

Low altitude flights of US aircraft accepted even without SOFA stipulation

November 18, 2018

U.S. military aircraft can fly anywhere in the airspace over Japan, and not just within the areas Japan has been providing to the U.S. forces.

Article 5, Clause 2 of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) stipulates that U.S.-owned vessels, aircraft, armored vehicles, and members of the U.S. armed forces, including the civilian component and their dependents shall be accorded access to and movement between facilities and areas in use by the U.S. armed forces and between such facilities and areas and the ports or airports of Japan.

Based on this stipulation, the Japanese government has been accepting U.S. flight training exercises even outside the areas legally provided. However, as for low-altitude flight training exercises, the government could not justify them by using the Article 5, Clause 2 stipulation.

Japan in 1999 made an agreement with the U.S. regarding low-altitude flight training. The agreement states that exercises using low-altitude flights are necessary to support the objectives of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. In other words, anything that can be claimed to be "for the objectives of the Japan-U.S. alliance" becomes possible even without the SOFA.

Japanese aviation law sets minimum safety altitudes at 300 meters above the highest building in populated areas and 150 meters over unpopulated areas or over water.

In April of this year, a YouTube video was uploaded showing that a U.S. F-16 fighter was flying at an altitude lower than the windmills in Iwate Prefecture, and the U.S. commander admitted to this.

However, Japanese authorities can neither investigate this incident nor punish anyone for violating the Japanese safety standards because the SOFA special measures allow the U.S. military to disregard the standards set by the Japanese aviation law unlike other U.S. allies.

Past related articles:
> US F-16 fighter jet flies at ultralow altitude, violating aviation rules [April 27, 2018]
> JCP Akamine demands abolition of law allowing US military to continue with unsafe flight practices [January 31, 2018]
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