After spate of incidents, Japan increases punishments for pilots who drink and fly

Kyodo, JIJI

The Diet enacted a revised aviation law Thursday that increases punishments for pilots found to have flown under the influence of alcohol or drugs following a series of drinking-related incidents involving Japanese airlines.

Under the legislation, which will take effect in stages within one year of its official announcement, the penalty for drinking and flying has been raised from a maximum one-year jail term or ¥300,000 fine to a sentence of up to three years or a ¥500,000 fine.

Japanese airlines have already tightened drinking rules, introducing mandatory Breathalyzer tests and relieving pilots of their duties if even a very low level of alcohol is detected. Those flying private planes, however, are not subject to the same checks.

The legislation also seeks to improve aviation safety ahead of the intended mid-2020 delivery of the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, Japan’s first homegrown commercial passenger jet.

The law requires aircraft manufacturers to notify the government of malfunctions, with the compulsory reporting seen as a way to ensure that repairs are carried out quickly.

The legislation also outlined broad new requirements around preflight inspections of drones.

Additionally, the law allows the government to conduct on-site inspections at residences or offices of drone operators who have caused accidents.

Operating drones under the influence of alcohol will be banned under the revised law.

A jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to ¥300,000 will be imposed on those who fly drones weighing 200 grams or more under the influence of alcohol or in other conditions in which normal operations of such unmanned aerial vehicles cannot be guaranteed.

Failure to conduct proper preflight inspections, and dangerous drone operations such as making a sudden descent, will be subject to a fine of up to ¥500,000.

Flight rules for drones have already been put in place by the transport ministry. They include restricting their operation to daytime and requiring pilots to maintain visual contact and ensure the drone flies at least 30 meters above structures, vehicles and people.