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Japan Airlines will equip its fleet with medical equipment to provide emergency care to passengers who suffer heart attacks, beginning with long-distance international routes in autumn.

The planes will carry automated external defibrillators, which use electric shock to normalize the heart functions of people with an irregular heartbeat.

JAL will be the first Japanese airline to introduce AEDs, which have been in use by foreign airlines since 1990, the officials said.

The instrument automatically checks for abnormal cardiac rhythms and a verbal message tells the operator whether to administer electric shock.

A one-minute delay in the use of an AED decreases resuscitation chances by 7 percent to 10 percent, JAL officials said.

AEDs were first introduced by Britain’s Virgin Atlantic Airways in 1990; major U.S. airlines started carrying them in 1997. In April, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration instructed domestic airlines to equip passenger planes with AEDs within three years.

While other countries permit nonphysicians to operate the device, only doctors and emergency medical technicians under the supervision of physicians are allowed to do so in Japan.

In emergencies, JAL plans to ask doctors who happen to be aboard to use the AED. But the airline intends to lobby the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to allow flight attendants to operate the equipment.

According to JAL data, 29 passengers fell ill while flying with the airline and died within three days of disembarkation between fiscal 1993 and 1997. Twenty-one of the deaths were caused by heart maladies.

Japanese airlines have been stepping up efforts to give first aid to passengers who fall ill on flights. Airlines now train flight attendants in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, carry medicine on board and have devised a system for the crew to radio for medical advice from the ground.

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