TOKYO/LONDON – Japan will tighten rules for drinking by airplane staff, following the arrest in London of a Japan Airlines Co. co-pilot for failing a breath test shortly before a flight and recent alcohol problems in the aviation industry, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Keiichi Ishii said Friday.
“We will use all possible means to ensure flight safety,” Ishii told reporters, adding that the government will study standards enforced by other countries in implementing stricter rules for the industry.
Under the current Japanese system, crew members are prohibited from drinking within eight hours of starting work but there is no law or regulation that sets a legal limit for alcohol consumption.
Breath tests are not even required. Airlines have their own rules and voluntarily conduct them, in contrast to the United States and Europe where legal frameworks have been established, according to the transport ministry.
“Although we conduct regular or unannounced safety inspections for airlines, detailed drinking regulations are left to the discretion of each company,” said an official at the transport ministry’s aviation safety and security department.
Ishii’s remarks came after co-pilot Katsutoshi Jitsukawa pleaded guilty to being over the legal alcohol limit at a U.K. court.
The airline said Thursday that Jitsukawa, 42, had been arrested by British police for being about 10 times over the legal limit set under the U.K.’s aviation law after he drank two bottles of wine and more than 1.8 liters of beer over a period of six hours from 6 p.m. Saturday, the night before Sunday’s flight.
His heavy drinking also forced the company to operate the weekend flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Haneda airport in Tokyo with two pilots rather than the normal three.
Believing that Jitsukawa might have cheated when he had previously taken the company’s internal breath test, the airline said Friday it has changed its internal rules.
JAL said from now on it will involve airport staff in alcohol checks rather than getting pilots to test each other.
JAL’s company rules prohibit its pilots from drinking alcohol less than 12 hours before flying any planes. Following the arrest, as a temporary measure, the carrier’s management has ordered its pilots to refrain from drinking for 24 hours before they start working.
“We want to review our internal regulations in accordance with government policy,” a JAL official said.
The co-pilot will be sentenced on Nov. 29, according to a U.K. court official.
His arrest came after the driver of a Heathrow Airport crew bus noticed the smell of alcohol on the co-pilot’s breath and alerted police, JAL said.
Due to the arrest, the flight’s departure for Haneda, scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday local time, was delayed by 1 hour and 9 minutes.
The incident came to light after All Nippon Airways Co. on Wednesday apologized for five flight delays in Okinawa last week because a pilot was not in a fit state to work following a night of drinking.
A number of alcohol problems in the Japanese air industry have become known in recent months. In May, a flight attendant aboard a JAL plane was caught sneaking a beer into a plane toilet and drinking it while on duty.
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