The transport ministry said Thursday it will subject the Japan Airlines Group to special safety inspections through the end of the year, following a spate of safety-related problems involving the nation’s largest carrier.

The unusual move is designed to ensure that JAL follows up on the safety procedures it promised earlier in the day to carry out, according to ministry officials.

The problems include a jetliner starting a takeoff roll without clearance from the control tower, a plane taxiing onto the wrong runway, and a plane being flown with an inactive escape chute.

None of the incidents resulted in injury.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry regards the manifold problems that arose even after the issuance of an operational improvement order as extremely rare.

“Properly speaking, JAL is a big boy and should implement the measures by itself,” but given the current situation, the ministry cannot leave it up to the carrier, Satoshi Iwamura, vice transport minister, told a news conference.

Ministry officials will first carry out a three-day inspection — beginning April 20 — of JAL’s head office, its operational headquarters and its maintenance section. Inspections of JAL operations at Haneda, Narita and other airports will then be conducted in May.

The officials will conduct further on-site inspections every two to three months through the end of the year, the ministry said.

The transport ministry issued JAL with an operational improvement order in mid-March, telling the carrier to investigate whether there were any structural problems within the company that may have triggered the problems.

JAL group executives received a transport ministry reprimand in March over three legal violations committed by Japan Airlines International.

In February, it was revealed that a JAL jumbo cargo jet had been using erroneous wheel parts for more than eight years.

In March, a JAL jet flew from Haneda airport to Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport with an inactive emergency escape chute, while another JAL plane entered the wrong runway at South Korea’s Inchon airport after misinterpreting instructions from the controller.

The transport ministry also issued a warning to Japan Airlines Domestic over a jetliner that attempted to take off at New Chitose Airport in January without clearance from the control tower.

On Thursday, the ministry grounded the JAL pilot involved in the Hokkaido airport case for 30 days and reprimanded the copilot.

It also reprimanded another JAL pilot who had misunderstood the instructions at Inchon airport.

In its report to the ministry Thursday, JAL acknowledged that there had been a lack of safety awareness among its employees in general, citing various factors.

JAL management has failed to instill among its employees the notion of prioritizing safety, while focusing too much on flight punctuality amid at atmosphere of cutthroat competition, the carrier said in a 66-page report submitted to the transport ministry.

The integration of the former Japan Airlines Co. and Japan Air System Co. under a holding company has also generated confusion with regard to detailed working procedures, the airline said. The integration has also resulted in inadequate communication between management and workers, it added.

In response, JAL has promised to hold regular meetings between management and workers, as well as bolstering employee education on safety measures.

“Each employee lacked sensitivity toward safety and it is the management’s fault for having failed to get across the idea that safety comes first,” JAL Group chief executive Toshiyuki Shinmachi told a news conference.

“Although public sentiment toward (JAL) is severe, I will lead the company’s efforts to restore public trust in JAL.”

JAL, which is now a holding company for Japan Airlines Domestic Co. and Japan Airlines International Co., plans to merge with its two group firms by the end of fiscal 2006 to become a single company.

In October 2002, JAL and JAS integrated their operations under a holding company, with the constituent parts then reorganized into international and domestic units last April.

“(The former) JAL and JAS have had different working procedures because the details were not unified at the time of the integration,” JAL Group senior managing director Takenori Matsumoto said.

Asked whether JAL will need to revise a three-year business plan announced in March due to anticipated costs tied to the safety measures, Shinmachi said, “The plan does not include reducing expenses that are necessary for safety operations, so there will be no change in the plan.”

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