Business / Corporate

JAL's novice pilots grounded by 2010 bankruptcy finally take wing

Kyodo

Around 100 people who joined Japan Airlines Co. as pilot candidates but never had a chance to work in the air due to the airline’s 2010 bankruptcy are finally making their debuts on domestic flights.

The bankruptcy led JAL to substantially cut its flight routes and freeze pilot recruitment and training. Of its employees who joined JAL as pilot candidates, some left the airline to become pilots at other companies and others who stayed at JAL worked on the ground, such as in the section on mileage management and the regional office administration department.

After the airline rehabilitated itself with taxpayers’ money, it resumed pilot training in October 2012 and started hiring pilot candidates again in April 2015.

The roughly 100 employees who are making or soon to make their debuts as domestic flight copilots are those who had seen their training frozen for the longest period of time among other JAL pilot candidates.

“Now I feel that I have finally reached this stage,” said Tatsuhiko Senzaki, 34, who on Monday became the first of the 100 to fly as a copilot.

“I intend to perform as I usually do (in training), but I’m a bit nervous,” he said before the flight from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Tokushima.

Another soon-to-be-copilot, Yohei Suzuki, 31, expressed thanks for the support he received to become a pilot after working at a JAL subsidiary in charge of ticket sales and other travel services.

“I will do my best to offer safe and comfortable flights, while remembering my appreciation for those who supported me,” he said.

The new JAL copilots are scheduled to fly Boeing 737s, mainly on relatively short domestic flights.

The aircraft, with 165 passenger seats, was selected as it offers more flight opportunities than larger aircraft like Boeing 777s and 787s.

Their debuts come after JAL introduced a new training method for copilots in April 2014, which cut the duration by more than half a year by focusing on flight training with pilots in command and utilizing more simulators. Previously, pilot candidates were required to practice alone in a small aircraft for a longer period of time.