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Transportation

Haneda Airport tests higher plane routes to quell noise pollution

Jets will descend at sharper angle when landing at central Tokyo hub

Haneda's plans to introduce new flight paths above residential areas have raised concerns about noise pollution. (Photo by Kai Fujii)

TOKYO -- Haneda Airport has begun testing new flight paths above the capital's densely populated areas, directing planes to fly at higher altitudes to reduce noise pollution as the hub gets ready to expand capacity ahead of the Summer Olympics. 

The Transport Ministry will conduct the test flights using passenger planes between Thursday and March 11. The planes will test the routes for seven days in northerly winds and another seven days facing southerly winds. The first session took place on Thursday evening when the wind blew north as anticipated. 

The new flight paths, due to begin service March 29, will allow Haneda Airport to increase the number of international departures and arrivals to 99,000 from the current 60,000, up 70%.

The planes will fly a few hundred meters above central Tokyo. Depending on the route, there will be 40 passages within an hour.

Letting the planes land at a sharper angle will enable them to fly at higher altitudes. The planes would fly 1,000 meters above ground near the capital's Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, or 100 meters higher than normal, and 700 meters above ground near Ebisu station on JR East's Yamanote Line.

The new flight routes were made possible after Washington agreed to let commercial flights pass through airspace controlled by the U.S. Yokota Air Base. 

The added capacity would open connections to seven more nations and territories, including Russia and India. The economic benefit is estimated at 650 billion yen ($5.95 billion) per year.

Still, depending on the location, the added noise pollution would reach 75 to 80 decibels -- equal to being inside a pachinko parlor -- experts warn. Residents living under the flight paths have expressed concerns about the quality of life and declining property values.

One Tokyo-based broker says he will remain vigilant. "Right now, I don't feel any effect on contracts, but I'm keeping close watch on how residents will feel once the passenger planes start flying," said the agent.

To secure residents' understanding, the Transport Ministry has held information sessions in the Tokyo area since 2015. Officials have maintained that there is no causal relationship between land values and overflights above city centers, citing airports serving Osaka and Fukuoka city as examples.

Once the Haneda test flights wrap, officials will announce the levels of noise pollution gauged during the trials. The transport ministry will also designate reduced landing fees for airplanes that produce quieter sounds. 

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