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Budget carrier Skymark Airlines’ failure to uphold the fundamentals of airline safety were underlined by the transport ministry. After a three-week inspection of Skymark’s operations, the ministry on April 6 issued a warning, ordering it to rectify 12 safety-related problems. The airline submitted its safety improvement plan a week later.

The unusually long inspection was prompted by a number of incidents, such as a failure to supply the autopilot system with the correct altitude data, and crew members posing for photographs in the cockpit mid-flight.

The autopilot data failure, which occurred during a flight on March 11, caused an airliner to fly at an altitude of some 5,800 meters instead of the 4,000 meters requested by air control.

In the photographs taken in the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot are seen posing with their backs to the windscreen. The Civil Aeronautics Law requires pilots to visually monitor the airspace through the windshield all times. It seems that the Skymark crew forgot the lessons of the July 30, 1971, mid-air collision between an Air Self-Defense Force jet fighter and an All Nippon Airways airliner over Shizukuishi in Iwate Prefecture, which killed all 162 people aboard the ANA craft.

Other matters raised by the ministry included: three cabin attendants, due to lack of English ability, did not pick up the intercom to respond to calls by a foreign pilot; the carrier cut the number of cabin attendants who provide pre-takeoff explanations of onboard safety procedures from three to two; a procedure requiring pilots to don an oxygen mask if the other pilot leaves the cockpit (a safety precaution guarding against sudden depressurization) was not followed; and the carrier failed to conduct proper post-flight checks on an airliner that had been buffeted by turbulence.

The carrier’s slackness is inexcusable. It also received a warning in 2006 from the ministry after a series of maintenance errors. Skymark Airlines is known for rigorous cost cutting, but no matter what other pressures exist, management of any airline must remember that safety comes first.

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