A Japanese court on Wednesday ordered the government to suspend nighttime flights by Self-Defense Force aircraft at a base near Tokyo due to excessive aircraft noise, but rejected the plaintiffs' demand to halt the flights of U.S. military planes.
The Yokohama District Court decision involving Atsugi base marks the first time a ruling on the suspension of flights has been made since noise pollution suits involving air bases in Japan started being filed in the 1970s.
The base is jointly used by the U.S. Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The court ordered the state to suspend flights of the SDF aircraft daily from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with exceptions made for cases which the government deems as "necessary."
In the landmark ruling, Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Samura urged the state to pay about 7 billion yen in damages, which the Justice Ministry said is a record high for similar aircraft noise suits involving bases.
The suit -- the first to seek the suspension of flights and the banning of U.S. military aircraft -- is the fourth of its kind filed since 2007 involving the base, which occupies roughly 5 million square meters of land straddling the densely populated cities of Ayase, Ebina and Yamato in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo.
Plaintiffs from eight cities including Ayase and Yamato have called for the suspension of nighttime and early morning flights at the base, saying the noise of the aircraft is a violation of their personal rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The plaintiffs, who number around 7,000, live in areas with a noise level greater than 75 on the Weighted Equivalent Continuous Perceived Noise Level, an international index for gauging airplane noise.
Past court rulings have determined that the state should pay damages to people living in areas with a noise level of more than 75.
Complaining of intense aircraft noise due to the frequent takeoffs and landings of U.S. military and SDF planes, the plaintiffs have asked for monthly compensation, which includes future damages, of 23,000 yen per person.
The plaintiffs have highlighted in their arguments that Japan's defense minister ultimately controls the operation of SDF jets as well as having the authority to approve U.S. military planes' use of the base's 2,400-meter runway.
The state has countered that the noise is within the tolerable limit and the damage caused has been mitigated due to soundproofing measures it has taken.
In all three previous lawsuits, the first of which was filed in 1976, courts said the state is liable for the noise pollution and ordered it to pay for past damages, but not future damages.
The Tokyo High Court, in the third lawsuit, ordered the government to pay more than 4 billion yen in damages to residents around Atsugi base.