Air Traffic Communication Lapses Worry Authorities;JAL Inspected Again After Alarming Case Fukuoka

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Inspectors from the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry enter a Japan Airlines building in Ota Ward, Tokyo, on Friday.

An extraordinary on-site inspection by the transport ministry of a Japan Airlines facility, just a short time after the last such inspection, was due to incidents involving JAL that occurred one after another.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry conducted on Friday the second extraordinary on-site inspection in just over three months under the Civil Aeronautics Law.

The ministry was particularly concerned about an incident in which a JAL plane crossed a stop line at Fukuoka Airport on May 10.

The ministry intends to root out the problems facing both the air traffic control authorities and the pilots.

Meanwhile, the ministry will likely be forced to reexamine its measures to prevent a recurrence of collisions like one that occurred at Haneda Airport in January.

A senior ministry official with extensive experience in the aviation field expressed growing concern about communication problems between pilots and air traffic control authorities, as seen in the case of JAL Flight 312 at Fukuoka Airport.

“It is outrageous that both JAL and the air traffic control authorities are lacking basic operations. Aside from the severity of the outcome, there has been a series of mistakes that are even more serious than those at Haneda Airport,” the official said.

JAL Flight 312 left the apron on the afternoon of May 10 and was heading toward the runway’s southern end via a taxiway. Along the way, the plane crossed the stop line at Taxiway E6, which leads onto the runway.

Noticing that the JAL aircraft crossed the stop line, an air traffic controller instructed a J-Air aircraft that had already begun its takeoff run to make an emergency stop on the runway about 500 meters short of taxiway E6.

When Flight 312, which was instructed to stop at about the same time, came to a complete stop, part of the aircraft had entered the runway.

Three faults have been identified that are considered more serious than those in the deadly Haneda Airport accident.

First, there was a misunderstanding in which the air traffic controller meant to instruct the pilots to “stop short of the runway,” but all three JAL pilots mistakenly believed that they had been permitted to enter the runway.

Second, the misunderstanding could have been avoided if the pilots had repeated the instructions and the controller had confirmed that they had been repeated. However, both sides failed to do so and confirm the “stop short of the runway” instructions.

Third, the pilots formed the erroneous belief that they had permission to enter the runway even though the control authorities did not use the standard terminology that would have allowed Flight 312 to enter the runway.

The trouble at Fukuoka Airport was not considered an “aviation accident” or a “serious incident” leading to an accident — terms that are defined by law — because the air traffic control team was able to notice that Flight 312 had crossed the stop line.

Nevertheless, Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito stated that the ministry took this matter “very seriously” Friday because these mistakes were items that should have been thoroughly addressed in the emergency measures taken in response to the accident at Haneda Airport.

“If no measures are taken, a serious accident will eventually occur again,” the ministry’s senior official said.