Govt to boost foreign plane safety checks


(TVLW) – The Construction and Transport Ministry has decided to strengthen monitoring of foreign airlines operating in Japan with a view to improving safety and preventing accidents, ministry sources said Sunday.

The tighter monitoring will start next fiscal year and is a major change in the ministry’s current safety policy, under which it depends on foreign aviation authorities to supervise airlines based in their countries. The ministry judged that it is necessary to conduct its own safety guidance ahead of an expected increase in the number of foreign airlines serving this country.

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According to the sources, the ministry will appoint “safety control officers” who will specialize in monitoring the safety of overseas airlines. When a foreign airline is classified as “caution necessary,” the officers will step up monitoring of the company and call on the aviation authorities in the relevant country to instruct the company to improve its safety standards.

Currently, the ministry and foreign aviation authorities only exchange documents in the event of airplane accidents and serious problems. Under the new policy, the safety control officers will directly consult relevant officials at foreign aviation authorities and ask them to investigate the causes of accidents and take preventive measures.

The officers also will thoroughly inspect items that they asked to be the subject of safety improvements, checking whether each country is fulfilling its supervisory responsibilities.

In addition, the officers will collect information on airplane problems that occurred overseas. If an airline company is classified as “caution necessary,” the officers will conduct more frequent unannounced safety inspections on airliners operated by the company when they enter Japan. The officers also will instruct the Japanese branch of the airline concerned to improve safety measures.

With regard to safety measures, the European Union, for example, prohibits or limits the entry of airlines from countries outside the EU that are deemed to have “dangerous” safety standards. The United States rates foreign airlines using a two-level safety rating.

Japan lags the EU and the United States in terms of safety checks on foreign airlines. The number of unannounced safety inspections conducted on foreign airplanes in Japan is about 100 a year–far below the number in the United States, which conducts about 3,800 inspections each year.

The Convention on International Civil Aviation stipulates that a country where an airline’s headquarters is located shall, in principle, be responsible for supervising the company. The ministry decided to change its policy on the safety of foreign airlines following an increase in accidents and problems involving foreign airplanes, and concerns over airline safety standards in other Asian countries.

The number of foreign airlines serving Japan has been rising, with the total number of flights by overseas carriers rising from 1,780 flights a week in 2004 to 2,191 this year. Most of the increase is accounted for by Asian airlines. Meanwhile, the number of accidents and problems involving foreign airplanes also has been on the rise.

The ministry expects more foreign airlines, including low-cost carriers from Southeast Asian countries, to start serving Japan following the anticipated liberalization of the airline industry in other major Asian countries, which will give airlines more freedom to decide which cities and countries to serve. The planned increase in arrival and departure slots at Haneda and Narita airports in 2010 will also allow more foreign airlines to start serving those airports.

Japan’s aviation officials have expressed doubts over the safety of some airlines, particularly those offering cheap fares. Over the past few years, there have been many serious accidents in Indonesia and other Asian countries. Such countries have yet to develop comprehensive accident investigation organizations and aviation authorities only exercise weak control over airlines. For this reason, strengthening monitoring of foreign airlines has become a pressing issue for the ministry.