TOKYO, Sept 19 (Reuters) - The hybrid aircraft MV-22 Osprey
at the heart of a controversy between the United States and
Japan is safe and will become fully operational in Japan next
month, the Japanese defence minister said on Wednesday.
The United States had been seeking to deploy the tilt-rotor
aircraft -- which takes off like a helicopter but flies like a
plane -- to the southern Japanese island of Okinawa despite
strong public opposition largely on safety grounds after it
crashed twice earlier this year.
Final results of crash investigations have confirmed that
the helicopter-plane is safe and the United States will begin
deployment at some point in October, Defence Minister Satoshi
"We have confirmed that the two accidents were caused by
human factors and not by the aircrafts' systemic problems or by
technical problems," he said, addressing reporters together with
Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba.
"We have confirmed the safety for the Osprey to operate, and
on the premise that there will be maximum consideration provided
for the public, we have decided to allow the United States to
start operating the Osprey."
The Osprey crash in Morocco in April killed two U.S.
Marines, while the one in Florida in June left five injured.
Thirty people, including 26 Marines, were killed in test flights
or training accidents from 1991 through 2000 during the
The first 12 MV-22s arrived by ship on July 23 at Iwakuni,
the only U.S. Marine Corps station on the main Japanese islands.
The Defense Department ultimately plans to base them at Futenma,
a Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa. They were grounded for
the time of the investigation.
The Osprey is key to a U.S. force realignment in the
Asia-Pacific region that has become a centrepiece of President
Barack Obama's foreign policy since January.
The aircraft is built by Bell Helicopter Textron and
Boeing Co. It will replace the 40-year-old CH-46 Sea
Knight helicopters, enabling Marines to fly faster, farther and
with bigger loads from Okinawa to remote islands in Japan.
Okinawa was occupied by the United States from 1945 to 1972.
It hosts 65 percent of total U.S. forces in Japan.