Official Gov’t Announcement: Iwakuni Air Base to Become Shared Civilian Airport

Official Gov’t Announcement: Iwakuni Air Base to Become Shared Civilian Airport

Completion image of Iwakuni Airport Terminal.

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On February 16, the government announced that US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni (JMSDF Iwakuni Air Base, Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture) will become a shared civilian and military airport in 2012.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kawamura officially announced the government’s objective at a press conference on the same day, and the base will once more become a civilian airport. Arrangements have been made for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism to set up airport facilities for civilian use, and for the Ministry of Defense to work on needed modifications on the American side. The secretary commented on the timing of the change, stating, “We will give as much consideration as possible to local requests for a deadline of 2012.”

Until the mid-1960s, regular flights operated out of Iwakuni Air Base when it was also a civilian airport. Now there is no airport within 100 kilometers of the area and there has been continued demand among local residents and government directed at the national government for the base to become a shared civilian and military airport. In 2005, the US and Japanese governments agreed to allow for four daily roundtrip civilian flights out of the base. Since then steps towards creating a shared airport have proceeded, and in January of this year All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced its intention to operate regular flights between Iwakuni and Haneda.

Upon hearing the announcement from the government, Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda commented, “I am deeply moved that the efforts by local organizations, the prefecture and the city have finally come to fruition.” The Iwakuni Airport Opening Preparation Committee, formed by the city, the Iwakuni Chamber of Commerce and Industry and others, will explore the establishment of a company to operate a civilian airport terminal.

There has been opposition to the realignment of US forces in Japan, and some analysis has found that the local response to make the air base a shared civilian and military airport is mixed. Iwakuni will be the second US base in Japan to become a shared civilian facility after Misawa Air Base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture.