Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst single-aircraft accident. Japan Airlines’ Flight 123 from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Osaka lost control when its rear bulkhead broke at 6:24 p.m. on Aug. 12, 1985. The Boeing 747 jumbo jet crashed on a ridge of Mount Osutaka in Gunma Prefecture at 6:56 p.m. Of the 509 passengers and 15 crew members aboard the plane, 520 were killed. The cause of the tragedy was later laid to faulty Boeing bulkhead repairs in 1978.
On Thursday, more than 300 bereaved relatives visited the crash site, braving rain and winds from a typhoon. Mr. Seiji Maehara became the first transport minister to visit the crash site. In the evening, a memorial service was held at the base of the ridge attended by some 270 people. The lessons from the tragedy must be handed down to future generations and be kept fresh in the minds of people engaged in aircraft and airline industries and the transport administration.
JAL filed for bankruptcy protection on Jan. 19 and is undergoing state-backed rehabilitation. It is all the more important for the nation’s flag carrier to place priority on ensuring safety of its flights. Its management and employees must tell themselves every day that safety and public trust are the foundations of its reconstruction.
JAL management plans to cut the JAL group’s workforce by some 16,000 workers in fiscal 2010. This means that a large number of veteran employees will leave the group, such as JAL pilots, maintenance workers and cabin crew members. JAL management must take utmost care to keep the morale of employees high and hand down the accumulated operation and maintenance skills to young workers.
As JAL President Masaru Onishi said, there will be no corporate reconstruction if safety is sacrificed. JAL must create a system in which executives, middle managers and employees have good communication and work together to increase safety. Airlines alone cannot ensure safety. Airlines, aircraft makers and air traffic controllers must join hands to keep airline operations safe.
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