Olympic Flight Plans Spark Outrage Among Tokyo Residents

New flight paths planned for Tokyo Haneda Airport, which could see more than 100 aircraft a day passing low over residential districts, has sparked an outcry from local residents. The new paths, due to be introduced at the end of March, will allow for more takeoff and landing from the airport, adding needed capacity in time for the summer Olympic Games.

Tokyo Olympics flight paths
Flight paths designed to increase air traffic in advance of the Tokyo Olympics are causing concern among residents. Photo: Getty

Low flying worries

Tokyo is gearing up for a big summer. July will see the city host the four-yearly Olympic Games, generating a massive uptick in arrivals to the capital. Already new slots have been granted at Haneda Airport to facilitate the influx of arrivals, and several airlines have laid on new services to ensure that everyone who wants to go along, can.

However, not everyone is happy with the uptick in aircraft movements expected over the summer season. Reuters reports that some city residents are unhappy with the proposals, which could see large aircraft flying low over residential neighborhoods.

In fact, it’s not just the Olympics that are causing concern, but the flight paths planned for us by Haneda Airport under certain weather conditions.

Haneda flight path
The new Haneda flight paths will see aircraft passing low over residential areas. Photo: Getty

From the 29th March, if the wind is blowing in a southerly direction, as many as 45 planes per hour will utilize Haneda’s new approach routes, passing low over residential areas for up to three hours a day. These routes see aircraft flying as low as 1,000 feet (300m) above the rooftops of homes, and local residents are not happy with the idea.

Calling for a referendum

For Tokyo, the new flight paths are crucial to expansion. Using the routes over central Tokyo will enable the city to add as many as 39,000 flights per year, an increase Japanese officials say is worth $6bn to Japan’s economy.

However, local residents fiercely oppose the plan, saying that the government is “using the Olympics to push the plan,” and noting that the flights will continue long after the games have finished. According to the head of the Haneda Problem Solving Project, Kiwami Omura, “There’s a lot of risk and little merit, few residents are happy.”

Tokyo Haneda flight path
The flight paths were tested earlier this month. Photo: Getty

Omura and other campaigners are attempting to gather at least 7,000 signatures from local people, the benchmark that will allow them to ask the assembly to approve a referendum. However, they believe they will secure closer to 30,000 signatures, so strong is the local opposition.

However, even if the situation does get referred to a referendum, residents do not have the power to reverse the decision. Only the transport minister can do that, so it’s unlikely anything will change.

What about coronavirus?

When we’re talking about large gatherings of people in Asia, it would be amiss to ignore the looming specter of coronavirus. Right now, nobody knows what the situation will be in July, but IOC senior Dick Pound admitted today that things were very ‘fluid’. He said,

“…we are a go for July 24, [as of] today. It’s a very fluid situation. And nobody knows enough about the virus. And that might change. But for now, July 24 is the Opening Ceremony.”

Positive statements from Pound, but he admitted there could be issues as he continued,

“We would be reckless, in the face of the first major outbreak since SARS or Spanish flu, not to be thinking about what the implications may be.

Tokyo Olympics
The future of the Tokyo Olympics hangs in the balance as the world waits to see the outcome of the novel coronavirus. Photo: Getty

“This is not a manufactured crisis like there was in Rio with Zika. That was an invented crisis that was debunkable right from the start, but got lots of play because it sounded neat. This is real. It has the potential to become a genuine pandemic.”

For now, the jury is out on whether the $25bn operation will go ahead as planned. However, regardless of the Olympics, Tokyo appears committed to introducing the new flight paths, regardless of what local residents think.