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JAL reveals 163 cases of pilots skirting alcohol tests; gov't orders improvement

Japan Airlines Co. President Yuji Akasaka, right, receives a business improvement order from Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Civil Aviation Bureau chief Kuniharu Ebina, at the ministry in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district, on Dec. 21, 2018. (Mainichi/Motohiro Negishi)

TOKYO -- Japan Airlines Co. (JAL) announced on Dec. 20 that there were 163 cases in which pilots intentionally avoided in-house alcohol tests prior to their flights and therefore the data on those tests was unavailable.

In response to this and other cases of problems linked to drinking by pilots, the transport ministry slapped JAL on Dec. 21 with an order to improve its business operations, saying the airline violated operation rules based on the Civil Aeronautics Act. It was the first order of its kind over a drinking problem.

The ministry also reprimanded All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA), its affiliate ANA Wings Co., Skymark Airlines Inc. and a JAL affiliate Japan Air Commuter Co. over their pilots' drinking problems, ordering them to prevent a recurrence and establish safe operation procedures.

JAL President Yuji Akasaka apologized after receiving the order from the ministry. "We will strengthen countermeasures we are taking and rebuild our safety preparedness," Akasaka said.

According to JAL, 110 of the 163 cases involved a 52-year-old pilot. The pilot was quoted as telling an in-house probe team that he slipped past the alcohol tests because "tests using detectors are not provided for by the operation manual (based on the Civil Aeronautics Act)."

JAL gave a warning and guidance to the pilot, and will specify alcohol tests using detectors in its operation manual to punish crew who forgo such tests.

The major carrier said while there were a total of some 220,000 pilots who showed up for flights between August last year and November this year after a new type of alcohol detector was introduced, the data on 4,175 of those tests was not available.

Of the 163 deliberate dodging incidents, 49 cases were committed by 26 co-pilots who were set to board the same flight with the pilot in question. They apparently skirted around the tests together with the pilot.

The pilot told JAL, "Prior to our flights, the co-pilots and I mutually confirmed that we were not under the influence of alcohol."

JAL also revealed on Dec. 20 that 0.15 milligrams of alcohol per liter of exhaled breath -- exceeding the in-house standard -- was detected in a 46-year-old female cabin attendant who was aboard a flight bound for Honolulu on Dec. 17. Although she had passed the pre-flight test, two colleagues realized that she smelled of alcohol about four hours after the flight took off from Narita Airport. The cabin attendant in question was then tested for alcohol aboard the flight.

"I haven't drunk alcohol since Dec. 14," she was quoted as telling the company. JAL intends to further question the worker over the matter.

In late November, a JAL co-pilot was given a 10-month prison sentence in Britain for trying to pilot a flight in October with an alcohol level exceeding the legal limit.

(Japanese original by Norihito Hanamure, City News Department)

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