U.S. lifts Osprey flight ban, eyeing aircraft’s return to Japan’s skies
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U.S. lifts Osprey flight ban, eyeing aircraft’s return to Japan’s skies

Tokyo and Washington will closely coordinate a timeline for resuming flights of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in Japan, the U.S. military and Japanese Defense Ministry said Friday, more than three months after a deadly crash of the controversial aircraft off Kagoshima Prefecture.

The U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) issued the global flight clearance for the V-22 Osprey, saying in a statement that the decision “follows a meticulous and data-driven approach prioritizing the safety of our aircrews.”

The Nov. 29 crash into waters near Kagoshima’s Yakushima island — the first fatal crash of the Osprey in Japan and the deadliest worldwide since the aircraft entered service in 2007 — rekindled concerns in Tokyo over the Osprey’s safety.

“The timeline for the resumption of flight operations of V-22 operated by U.S. Forces and the (Ground Self-Defense Forces) in Japan continues to be closely coordinated between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States,” the Defense Ministry and U.S. Forces Japan said in a separate joint statement.

“Return to flight timelines after the issuance of flight clearance for the V-22 are based on operational requirements unique to each service and mission profile,” it added. “V-22 aircraft will only operate after all maintenance, safety and procedural changes have been implemented.”

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said after the announcement Friday that Japan and the U.S. were continuing to work together closely on the matter and signaled that Tokyo was likely to follow suit and approve a resumption of flights of the Osprey soon.

“The U.S. side provided us with extremely detailed information on the circumstances and causes of the accident, as well as safety measures,” Kihara said, adding that “an unprecedented level of technical information” had been exchanged.

He said the U.S. military’s analysis of the cause of the accident and its safety measures had been evaluated “as reasonable” by the ministry, the SDF and the aircraft’s operators.

“We have determined that by taking the various safety measures to address the causes of the accident that were identified, we can safely resume operations, including those of the GSDF’s Osprey,” Kihara added.

Japan is the sole international partner involved in the Osprey program. The GSDF operates a fleet of 14 MV-22 Block C Ospreys from its Kisarazu base in Chiba Prefecture. It plans to deploy 17 Ospreys to Saga Airport by July 2025, as part of the nation’s island defense strategy.

The CV-22 Osprey is the U.S. Special Operation Forces variant of the aircraft, while the MV-22 variant is used by the U.S. Marine Corps and the GSDF.

According to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) investigation indicated a materiel failure of a component of the aircraft, and “provided time for a thorough review of the mishap and formulation of risk mitigation controls to assist with safely returning the V-22 to flight operations.”

“In concert with the ongoing investigation, NAVAIR has diligently worked with the USAF-led investigation to identify the materiel failure that led to the mishap.” it added.

Although the U.S. side did not offer more details of the cause of the crash, it said that “maintenance and procedural changes have been implemented to address the materiel failure that allow for a safe return to flight.”

The U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force will each put in place their own plans to return the Osprey to the skies, it said.

Source: The Japan Times