8 Airports to Receive More Air Traffic Controllers in Emergency Measure; Committee Proposes Measures After Haneda Crash

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito listens to remarks by Akinori Komatsubara, chair of the committee commissioned by the ministry to examine measures to prevent accidents on runways, at the ministry on Monday.

The transport ministry has announced that it will increase the number of air traffic controllers at eight major airports in the country during the busy summer period as an emergency measure to prevent accidents on runways.

Monday’s announcement came as the committee of outside experts established by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry following a fatal collision between a Japan Airlines jetliner and a Japan Coast Guard plane at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in January released its proposed air control safety measures.

The ministry also said it plans to bring former air traffic controllers back to work. Newly added staff will be allocated to the task of coordinating takeoffs and landings and support air traffic controllers in charge of transportation on runways.

The committee was set up in response to the January accident and comprises nine experts – including on subjects such as human error and air traffic control – as well as two aviation organizations. At six meetings held through last month, the committee discussed measures on how to prevent collisions on runways based on recommendations by its members and overseas examples reported by the transport ministry.

The ministry is treating the panel’s proposals as its interim report and plans to take steps based on the following five principles: 1) Preventing human error in air traffic communications; 2) Strengthening the alert system against wrongful entry into runways; 3) Boosting the implementation system of air control operations; 4) Enhancing the system for promoting runway safety; and 5) Promoting technological innovations.

Additional measures will be considered by the ministry once new information is revealed in the Japan Transport Safety Board’s investigation.

According to the ministry, additional air traffic control staff will be stationed at eight major airports across the country, including New Chitose, Haneda, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka.

They will take charge of communicating and coordinating takeoffs and landings with other air traffic controllers. This will release the air traffic controllers in charge of issuing takeoff and landing permission from coordination work, allowing them to concentrate on communicating with pilots and monitoring runways.

The government plans to bring more than 10 retired air traffic controllers back to work in August as part of its emergency measures to increase the number of air traffic controllers during the busy summer period, according to sources.

Meanwhile, the committee pointed out the shortage of air traffic controllers at airports in the country. A total of 113 of the 2,031 air traffic controller positions remain vacant.

“There have been a large number of vacancies in recent years due to increases in mid-career resignations and childcare leave,” the committee said in its proposals. “With the current number of personnel, it will be difficult to ensure safety on runways while responding to increasing aviation demand going forward.”

The committee called for taking measures to fill the vacancies and increase the number of air traffic controllers through such efforts as increasing the admission quota of the Aeronautical Safety College, a training institute for air traffic service officers, and promoting mid-career recruitment.