A light plane taking off from a small airport in Chofu in western Tokyo slammed into a home last Sunday, killing the pilot and two other people, and injuring five more. Given the densely populated area around the airport, many more people could have been injured, including a field of young soccer players. The crash demands a complete investigation and thorough review of all safety procedures for the operation of light aircraft flying in and out of small airports.

Though engine trouble or some other type of malfunction is suspected as the cause of this crash, the licensing, safety and training issues surrounding the flight appear, at first report, to be dubious. Much more fuel than needed was being carried by the plane, abnormally increasing its weight. The pilot was leasing the plane from a private company that was responsible for maintenance. Because such maintenance can mean the difference between a fun weekend outing and the tragedy that unfolded last Sunday, the transport ministry should reconsider its policies and increase its vigilance over all companies responsible for the maintenance of light aircraft.

The pilot ran a flight school — but without the necessary authorization from the transport ministry to use aircraft for training. Regardless, he operated the company through a loophole, running it as a “club membership” rather than as a “plane-using operation.” The transport ministry should investigate such “clubs” and ensure that all flights follow all regulations.

Chofu airport operates flights to and from the islands of Izu Oshima and Miyakejima, and is used by private and business aircraft. However, the 800-meter runway may no longer be sufficient for newer and larger planes to obtain an appropriate altitude before flying over residences and schools. A junior high school located just 300 meters from the site of Sunday’s accident was the site of another crash in 1980. Stricter standards for small airports must be enacted.

The mayor of Chofu had previously asked the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to reduce the number of private planes using the airport and to increase safety measures. That request should now be taken seriously. The authorities must make sure that all companies and pilots using such airport facilities are not only fully licensed but are following correct procedures and maintaining safety standards at all times.

In addition to the people killed and injured, nine houses were destroyed or damaged by last Sunday’s accident, including the one in which one of the victims was killed. Her mother and numerous neighbors narrowly escaped. Considering the ongoing fear and anxiety over future accidents there and at other small airports around Japan, the issue deserves increased priority.

Local authorities and the transport ministry have serious work to do to ensure that Japan’s nearly 100 civilian airports, not to mention its 33 military airports, are all running safely. That work should be undertaken immediately.

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