Japan Issues Official Warning to Airlines Having Problems With Drunk Pilots

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Japan Airlines has been in the news a lot this year, but not for reasons that would make its PR department proud. In October, a pilot was arrested at London Heathrow (LHR) for showing up to fly a Boeing 777 to Tokyo with a blood alcohol limit 10 times the UK legal limit. The pilot pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 10 months in prison and was fired by JAL. This was one in a series of such events for JAL over the past year. These troubling occurrences lead to flights being delayed and passengers being impacted by the crews actions.

On Friday, the Transportation Ministry of Japan issued a ‘Business Improvement Order’ for JAL. This order is issued before the ministry could take more serious actions to suspend or even completely revoke JAL’s business license. This isn’t the first time the carrier has received such an order. In 2005, the airline received the same type of order after serious episodes where pilots failed to comply with flight control instructions.

a man in a suit and tie: Japan Airlines Co. President Yuji Akasaka (right) receives a business improvement order at the transport ministry on Friday. Image via KYODO

All of this comes among yet another report — this time involving a flight attendant —of a failed breathalyzer test this week. The flight attendant claims she hadn’t been drinking, but had been using mouthwash durning the flight. JAL says it is looking into the incident. JAL doesn’t currently have policies in place regarding flight attendants, but are looking to implement them as a part of its plan to address the overall issue of alcohol use by employees. The new rules will cover flight attendants as well as engineers.

The ministry didn’t stop with JAL however. In an attempt to be proactive, they also issued warnings to All Nippon Airways, ANA Wings,  Skymark Airlines and Japan Air Commuter. These other airlines have also had reported issues with pilots and alcohol. The companies have been ordered to report back by Jan. 18 with measures they have implemented to address alcohol use by employees moving forward.

Incredibly, unlike most countries, Japan has no law setting limits for alcohol consumption for pilots. Airlines set their own rules around alcohol use by employees. JAL’s policy required pilots to limit drinking to 12 hours prior to their flight, a policy that has now been extended to 24 hours. In the wake of all the incidents, the ministry has implemented an eight-hour rule for pilots while it attempts to strengthen its regulations and bring them inline with other countries.

It’s clear that JAL is working to address its issues with employees and alcohol. The airline has installed more advanced breathalyzers, updated its own internal policies and company president Yuji Akasaka even took a 20% pay cut to show that management has skin in the game to get the problem solved.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/TPG.

H/T: The Japan Times

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