Article: Japan Airlines safety concerns

This article was originally posted to Japundit on August 15, 2005.

In recent weeks JAL has come under more and more fire over safety issues. Here are a few of the problems that have appeared in the news:

On June 15, two front tires fell off a JAL plane as it landed in Haneda.

On July 23, a JAL Airbus A300 took off from Haneda with a known malfunction in one of its two air pressure regulators, only to make an emergency landing at Tokushima when the failing device caused oxygen masks to deploy in the cabin.

On July 24, fire and smoke were indicated by instruments on a JAL Boeing 747 on its way to Narita. The plane landed in Manila, but no traces of fire or smoke were found.

On August 11, a fiberglass panel fell from a JAL Boeing 777 that had just landed in Narita from Singapore.

On August 12, in the most damning incident of all, a JALways plane suffered engine trouble shortly after taking off from Fukuoka on its way to Honolulu. After one of its three engines burst into flames, the plane turned around and returned to Fukuoka. It has since been discovered that approximately 600 fragments of the plane were strewn across residential Fukuoka.

Japan Airlines Domestic Co convened an emergency news conference at Fukuoka Airport and apologized for the incident.

“We are very sorry as we have to report this incident to you just after we have vowed to ensure safe flights” on the 20th anniversary of the 1985 accident, said Haruyuki Egawa, head of the airline’s Fukuoka Airport branch.

20 years ago, a JAL Boeing 747 crashed into Mount Osutakayama in Gunma Prefecture and killed 520 people. One op/ed piece published today revisits the crash and stresses, “Let there never be another major air disaster“. This past Thursday, a group of bereaved family members called into question the official explanation for the cause of the crash, and demanded the release of survivor accounts. According to this group, the official explanation, that a poorly repaired bulkhead caused a change in air pressure that ripped off the airplane’s tail, is not supported by witness accounts.

Off-duty JAL assistant purser Yumi Ochiai, who was 26 at the time and onboard as a passenger, was interviewed. The records show she was asked which direction the air flowed when the cabin air pressure decreased.

“There was no air flow,” she answered on Aug. 27, 1985.

However, the transport ministry’s panel had concluded that pressurized air from the cabin had flowed into the rear part of the fuselage through an opening in the pressure bulkhead partitioning caused by metal fatigue.

Whatever the truth is in this case, it is apparent that distrust for Japan Airlines is growing. Miya Tanaka writes in even more detail for Japan Today about JAL’s continued problems this year alone, and further evidence of passenger distrust.

None of the problems and serious incidents has resulted in severe injuries to passengers, but JAL said they have started to affect its business, with cabin attendants also feeling a sense of distrust spreading among passengers.

Setsuko Onishi, 52, a JAL cabin attendant for 31 years, said there was a case in which a passenger warned a crew member that her voice was too quiet during safety checking procedures in the cabin.

Tanaka cites deregulation and overseas outsourcing as major issues in JAL safety.

To JAL’s credit, there have not been any fatal accidents since the disaster in 1985. And the company is definitely being careful: it cancelled flights in July to repair small cracks found in components of two Bombardier CRJ200 aircraft which serve regional routes. However, given the numerous negative opinion pieces appearing lately, this record alone does not seem to be fostering passenger trust.

It’s likely that the recent problems, especially the smaller incidents, are inflated in the minds of the public due to the anniversary of the accident. This is not entirely fair to JAL; however, it cannot be denied that there are issues that need to be addressed within the company.