Kadena assists diverted aircraft during Naha Airport closure

by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft
18th Wing Public Affairs

Shogun Airmen from the 18th Wing demonstrated Kadena’s capability as a safety net when Japanese military and civil aviation authorities diverted aircraft during Naha Airport’s closure due to an aircraft malfunction July 26, 2017.

The 12 aircraft landed safely and remained at Kadena for about an hour until they were able to resume their flights to Naha.

Peach Aviation Limited executive vice president José Oller was a passenger aboard one aircraft that diverted to Kadena, and he witnessed firsthand the expertise with which Airmen handled the emergency.

“You guys saved our bacon. After being diverted it took us only 15-20 minutes to land, we were received right away, and it didn’t take too long,” said Mr. Oller. “The way this was handled by Air Force and civilian contractors was incredibly gracious and professional. Gratitude doesn’t even begin to express how I feel.”

Despite the fact that Kadena flightline personnel had never handled an Airbus A320, they still managed to refuel the aircraft without incident.

“Normally, if there is a diversion to another airport, there’s concern with how familiar those people are going to be with my aircraft, but the professionalism level was there, so there was nothing to worry about.”

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dustin Troyer, 18th Operations Support Squadron airfield manager, shared Mr. Oller’s satisfaction with the efficiency of flightline crews.

“Behind Naha, Kadena is the largest airfield that can handle this type of situation,” said Troyer "We have some of the best air traffic controllers and airfield managers in the Pacific Air Force. My team successfully identified and parked all diverted aircraft, coordinated appropriate agencies for service, and got them back on their way.”

Airmen and civilian contractors serviced all 12 aircraft while simultaneously handling other military operations, a feat Troyer chalks up as being done by flightline magicians.

“If you looked around the flightline during the divert operations, there were C-130 cargo planes taxiing adjacent to the Boeing 737s , an H-1 helicopter flying overhead, inbound U.S. Navy P-8s, KC-135 Stratotankers, etc.,” Troyer said. “This team is uniquely adapted to execute anything that’s thrown at us, so if you were to ask if this emergency divert phased us, I would say no. It’s just another day at Kadena.”

While Kadena’s daily routine may not always involve a sudden surge of diverted civilian airlines, the base stands as Okinawa’s aircraft safety net thanks to cooperation between U.S. and Japanese aviation authorities.

“In an emergency situation like we saw on Wednesday, it’s critical to provide alternate runways for aircraft that are unable to land at their primary destination,” said Col. Rich Tanner, 18th Wing vice commander. “Fortunately, thanks to mutual agreements we have with civil authorities here in Okinawa, we were able to be good neighbors and provide a landing spot for those aircraft while Naha Airport worked to restore its runway to full operations.”

Mr. Oller sees those mutual agreements as relationships and looks forward to maintaining them.

“We’re on the civilian side of the same trade, we’re all aviation people, and we want to keep the relationship close,” said Oller. “Now we have the confidence to say that the first time we encountered this type of emergency, we did it right and with great support.”

Troyer and the rest of Kadena’s airfield teams are ready to support Oller and any other aviation operations in the area.

"Aviation safety and security are a huge part of what we do, it touches everything that occurs here," said Troyer. "That protection extends to our civilian counterparts whenever they need our assistance.”

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