The transport ministry is considering relaxing around 100 aviation safety regulations to make it easier for low-cost carriers to enter the domestic market and enhance the industry’s competitiveness.
Airlines hope the expected regulatory changes will bring down costs and improve convenience for passengers, but aviation workers are concerned that some of the planned deregulation might jeopardize flight safety.
The ministry has already decided on conditionally lifting the ban on refueling aircraft while passengers are boarding or deplaning, a rule put in place because of the danger of fires. Due to a pilot shortage, it also plans to let pilots and copilots age 60 and older command commercial flights.
Another form of deregulation may be to ease qualification requirements for aircraft mechanics and copilots.
The transport ministry estimates that annual aviation costs could be slashed by around ¥3 billion if all of the rule changes under consideration take effect.
“Advances in technology have made many of the existing regulations obsolete, but we won’t deregulate to an extent that our rules would fall below international standards,” an official in the ministry’s Civil Aviation Bureau said.
“The planned deregulation could shorten the time aircraft are parked by at least 15 minutes, although we intend to take advantage of the rule change only when a flight is delayed,” said an official with Peach Aviation Ltd., which has lobbied to lift the ban against refueling occupied aircraft.
The budget airline that went into business in March.
The Peach official said, however that “it would be difficult for a pilot and copilot in their 60s to share the same cockpit” because pilot health-management rules are too strict.
The Japan Federation of Aviation Worker’s Union and Air Line Pilots’ Association of Japan called on the transport ministry in June not to implement 12 of the planned measures, including lifting the refueling ban and easing the qualification criteria for mechanics.
“The ministry should not deregulate too hastily,” said Akira Nakagawa, deputy chief of the Japan Federation of Aviation Worker’s Union. “Fewer experienced mechanics would be on hand while planes are parked” as a result of the deregulation, he said.
Former Japan Airlines executive Shinobu Kobayashi said that “necessary rules should remain in place or be made even more stringent because safety will continue to be of paramount importance whether or not more discount airlines enter the business.”
“It’s necessary to nurture the culture of putting a premium on safety in the corporate world and society at large while business competition is being promoted,” Kobayashi added.
LCCs have good Bon
Domestic flights for Peach Aviation Ltd. and two other budget airlines saw passenger boarding rates of around 90 percent during the Bon holidays, much higher than the 70 percent level of Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co., according to data released by the low-cost carriers.
Peach Aviation, which is based at Kansai International Airport and began operating in March, said 94.3 percent of seats on its domestic flight were occupied between Aug. 10 and Sunday.
Jetstar Japan Co. operated with a boarding rate of 89.5 percent, while the rate for AirAsia Japan Co. came to 91.2 percent. Jetstar started services in July and AirAsia this month.
Both Jetstar and AirAsia Japan are based at Narita International Airport.
The three budget airlines carried a combined 82,500 passengers on their domestic flights during the Bon holiday vacation period.