Japan to set up panel to tighten airline pilot drinking rules following recent scandals

Kyodo

An expert panel will be set up later this month to tighten drinking rules for aviation staff after a series of alcohol-related scandals involving Japanese airline pilots recently came to light, transport minister Keiichi Ishii said Tuesday.

Ishii told a news conference he has also instructed Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. to report by Nov. 16 their measures to prevent heavy drinking by its airplane staff after their flights were affected by drunken pilots.

A JAL co-pilot was arrested by British police for being about 10 times over the legal limit under British aviation law after he drank the night before his London-Tokyo flight on Oct. 28, while an ANA pilot became unwell after drinking in Okinawa, causing flight delays on Oct. 25.

The panel is set to hold its first meeting in mid-November to consider mandating alcohol checks for aviation staff and establishing limits on alcohol concentration levels in their system.

It is expected to compile a draft report on the alcohol consumption limit for pilots by the end of the year before discussing rules for flight attendants and aircraft mechanics.

Under the current system, aviation crew members are prohibited from drinking within eight hours of starting work, but there is no law or regulation that sets a limit for alcohol consumption, and breath tests are not required.

Airlines have their own rules and voluntarily carry them out, in contrast to the United States and Europe where legal frameworks are established, according to the transport ministry.

At a news conference Friday, Ishii said the ministry will study the standards of other countries in a bid to strengthen drinking rules for airplane staff.

According to JAL, the 42-year-old co-pilot Katsutoshi Jitsukawa drank two bottles of wine and more than 1.8 liters of beer over six hours from 6 p.m., the night before the flight.

His heavy drinking forced the company to operate the flight from Heathrow in London to Haneda airport in Tokyo with two pilots rather than the normal three, and its departure was delayed by more than one hour.

JAL revealed the incident on Thursday, a day after ANA apologized for five flight delays in Okinawa the week before because a pilot in his 40s called in sick after drinking until 10 p.m. the night before his early morning flight.

In May, a JAL flight attendant was caught sneaking a beer into a plane restroom and drinking it midflight.