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JAL, ANA to tighten alcohol rules after pilot drinking scandals

Kyodo

Japan Airlines Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. pledged Friday to administer more stringent alcohol tests for pilots and use new testing equipment in response to recent drinking incidents involving flight crew.

Recent problems involving drunken pilots from Japan’s two major airlines have stirred concern and prompted the government to tighten alcohol consumption rules for flight crew.

In a report submitted to the government, JAL said it will introduce new breathalyzers at overseas airports this month and penalize pilots who fail sobriety tests.

JAL co-pilot Katsutoshi Jitsukawa was arrested by British police after a heavy drinking session the night before a London-Tokyo flight on Oct. 28 left him around 10 times over the legal limit under British aviation law. The incident came days after an ANA pilot was unable to fly when he became sick from drinking in Okinawa, causing delays to five flights on Oct. 25.

“We feel deeply responsible for causing the incident, which should never have happened,” JAL President Yuji Akasaka said at a news conference, adding that his executive remuneration will be cut by 20 percent to clarify his management responsibility.

JAL has made a tentative change to its alcohol rules following the pilot’s arrest in London, banning drinking within 24 hours of a flight instead of 12 hours.

In the report submitted to the government the airline said the provisional 24-hour rule will stay in place until it finalizes a new one, and that some ground staff such as engineers will also start undergoing alcohol tests.

JAL also said that the arrested pilot had cheated during the pre-flight alcohol test, and that one of the two captains who were flying with him did not properly monitor the test, which was administered at the airline’s office.

At ANA, which is more focused on domestic services, new, more accurate breath analyzers will also be introduced, and portable testing devices will be distributed to all flight crew members.

“It is important to make preventive measures work effectively,” ANA President Yuji Hirako said in a separate news conference.

Jitsukawa pleaded guilty in a British court while the ANA pilot quit at the company’s request.

Transport minister Keiichi Ishii said Friday his ministry “will strictly instruct and oversee the airlines to ensure they implement preventive steps.” Ishii has vowed to tighten rules on drinking by aviation staff by looking at standards in other countries. A panel on the issue will hold its first meeting next Tuesday and will work to compile new rules by the end of the year.

Under the current Japanese system aviation crew members are prohibited from drinking within eight hours of starting work, but there is no law or regulation that sets a legal limit on blood alcohol level.

Breath tests are not required. Airlines have their own rules that they voluntarily police, in contrast with the United States and Europe where legal frameworks exist, according to the transport ministry.