MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
American and Japanese officials gathered at the new runway here to officially open it to flight operations in a commissioning ceremony May 29.
The historic ceremony marked the conclusion of the $2.6 billion, 13-year construction effort, which was designed to enhance the safety of flight operations and to decrease aircraft noise in the communities surrounding the air station.
John Roos, U.S. ambassador to Japan, said he considered the construction and completion of the new runway a notable accomplishment of the alliance between the United States and Japan.
“I want to recognize and thank the numerous Japanese partners who were involved in this undertaking, and I particulary want to thank and acknowledge the local residents,” said Roos. “The successful completion of this new runway, a project of great importance to both of our nations, proves that the future of U.S./Japan parnership is bright indeed.”
American and Japanese officials formally commissioned the runway with a bilateral ribbon cutting.
After the ribbon cutting, a Marine F/A-18 Hornet and a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3 Orion symbolically closed the old runway with a final take off from it and officially opened the new runway by landing on it.
“The fact that the flight evolution and this ceremony and the ribbon cutting itself is bilateral is representative of the long-term spirit of cooperation between our two nations,” said Lt. Gen. Terry G. Robling, Marine Corps Bases Japan commander and II Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general. “On a broader level, commissioning the new runway in 2010, the 50th anniversary of our alliance, reminds us what our two countries can accomplish when we work together towards a common goal and speaks volumes about the strength and future of our alliance.”
Construction of the new runway involved the joint efforts of the government of Japan, the Ministry of Defense, the Chugoku-Shikoku Defense Bureau, the Japanese construction industry, the U.S. Army Corps of engineers, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Facilities Department and others.
The Iwakuni Runway Relocation Project was first announced in 1992 with actual construction starting in June 1997.
Approximately 22 million cubic meters of land from nearby Atago Mountain was moved via conveyor belt and barge to the 533-acre construction site in the Seto Inland Sea.
Construction of the runway was accomplished in three phases.
Phase one involved the construction of a new port facility, which was completed in 2005.
Phase two involved the construction of the north end of the runway, and phase three concentrated on the middle section of the runway.
“The end result is nothing short of an engineering marvel and built on a scale that only a few countries in the world are technologically capable of achieving.” said Robling.
Yoshihiko Fukuda, Iwakuni city mayor, said he considered the construction of the new runway the best way to resolve many of the noise issues and safety concerns of the local community related to the air station while maintaining the nation’s defenses.
“We shall never forget that we are here today thanks to those who worked so hard towards this goal.” said Fukuda. “It is no exaggeration to say today is a historical day for Iwakuni city because what the residents of Iwakuni have long wanted has been realized.”