Japan Tightens Air Traffic Control After Fatal Collision at Tokyo’s Main Airport

Following a deadly collision at Tokyo's main airport, which resulted in five fatalities but allowed hundreds to escape unharmed, the Japanese government announced on Wednesday (Jan 10) that it has strengthened its air traffic control procedures. The transport ministry declared emergency safety measures after a Japan Airlines passenger jet collided with a Coast Guard aircraft on a Haneda Airport runway on Jan 2. While all 379 passengers and crew members on the airliner were quickly evacuated, five out of six crew members on the smaller plane, which was en route to deliver supplies to a region affected by an earthquake, perished.


The new nationwide requirements mandate that a staff member must continuously monitor a system that alerts control towers to runway incursions. To avoid confusion, controllers are prohibited from informing planes of their position in the take-off queue, according to statements posted on the ministry's website. "Restoring faith in aviation as a mode of public transport is one of my primary objectives," stated Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito on Tuesday. The ministry plans to establish an expert panel to explore additional safety enhancement measures, with their recommendations expected to be announced this week.


A communication transcript released by the ministry last week indicated that the JAL plane had been given landing clearance, but the Coast Guard plane was ordered to stop before the runway. The Coast Guard plane was informed that it was "No.1", implying it was next for take-off. However, the sole surviving Coast Guard pilot reportedly believed he had been given clearance to enter the runway, where his plane remained for approximately 40 seconds before the collision.

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The burnt remains of both planes have been removed from the Haneda tarmac, and flight operations have resumed as normal, with additional staff stationed at the airport's control tower since Saturday. A dedicated staff member has also been monitoring the warning system at Haneda since the weekend. A transport ministry official responsible for aviation affairs explained to AFP that "Control center staff have multiple responsibilities and cannot simply focus on the warning system." According to the Asahi newspaper, the Japan Transport Safety Board reported at least 23 "serious incidents" that posed a risk of runway collision in the decade leading up to 2023. In five of these cases, errors in air traffic control were suspected as the cause.

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