National

JAL headquarters raided following pilot’s heavy drinking before flight from London

Kyodo

The transport ministry on Tuesday conducted an on-site inspection of Japan Airlines Co. after one of its pilots was arrested in Britain for heavy drinking before a flight from London to Tokyo late last month.

Through the inspection at the company’s Tokyo headquarters and other offices through Thursday, the ministry is expected to confirm measures JAL outlined in a report submitted earlier to prevent a similar incident, as well as details of the misconduct.

“We will sort out and analyze information to be obtained in the inspection to strictly instruct and supervise the company. Then we will consider necessary steps including administrative punishment,” transport minister Keiichi Ishii said at a news conference.

JAL co-pilot Katsutoshi Jitsukawa was arrested by British police for being around 10 times over the country’s legal limit after drinking the night before the flight on Oct. 28.

He cheated a preflight alcohol test administered at the airline’s office and briefly boarded the plane.

Jitsukawa drank two bottles of wine and more than 1.8 liters of beer over six hours from 6 p.m. that night, his actions delaying the flight by 69 minutes and leaving the airline to operate the flight with two pilots rather than the normal three.

The company said one of the two pilots who were scheduled to fly with him did not properly monitor the test. The ministry is expected to interview the two about the incident.

“We will cooperate fully (in the inspection) and sincerely deal with the matter. We want to apologize once again for causing trouble and worries,” JAL said in a statement.

Following instructions by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, JAL submitted a report on Nov. 16 detailing measures to prevent a recurrence, such as expanding a drinking ban to within 24 hours of a flight instead of 12 hours.

The arrest of the JAL pilot is among a spate of similar alcohol scandals, involving pilots at All Nippon Airways Co. and Skymark Airlines Inc. The ministry is also expected to search ANA from Wednesday and Skymark sometime soon.

An ANA unit’s pilot called in sick after drinking the night before his early morning flight, in the process causing delays to five flights on Oct. 25 in Okinawa, while a Skymark flight was delayed after alcohol was detected on the breath of the plane’s pilot on Nov. 14.

The drinking scandals by pilots have prompted the government to start discussing tighter alcohol consumption rules for flight crew, with an eye on compiling them by year-end.

Under current Japanese law, aviation crew members are prohibited from drinking within eight hours of starting work, but there is no regulation that sets a legal limit on their blood alcohol level and breath tests are not required.

Airlines have their own rules and take voluntary steps to detect alcohol problems, in contrast with the United States and Europe, where legal frameworks exist, according to the transport ministry.