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Air Force: U.S. Pilots Fly Safely

April 3, 1998

TOKYO (AP) _ Responding to criticism from Japanese pilots, the U.S. Air Force said Friday it maintains high standards of safety and is willing to meet with the pilots to discuss the issue.

``Flight safety is our number one concern,″ said a statement issued by the Fifth Air Force at Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo.

The statement said U.S. forces’ aircraft comply with international aviation standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization and also voluntarily follow Japanese regulations.

The statement came after three Japanese pilot unions accused Japanese officials of ignoring their concerns and said Thursday they will take their complaints about close encounters with American warplanes directly to U.S. authorities.

The unions say Japanese commercial airliners have had three close calls with U.S. military jets in Japanese airspace since September. None of the airliners was forced to take evasive action and no one was injured.

But the pilots say the incidents were dangerous. Their unions petitioned the Japanese government for an investigation, but all three unions were turned down, said Kazuhiro Kawamoto, president of the Flight Crew Union of Japan.

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