Japanese Air Traffic Controllers’ Union Calls for Increased Staffing Following Haneda Crash

The Japanese air traffic controllers' union has demanded a substantial staff augmentation to enhance airport safety, following a fatal accident at Tokyo's Haneda airport last month. The union's executive committee chair issued a statement on Tuesday evening, not attributing the crash on January 2nd between a Japan Airlines (JAL) jet and a smaller Coast Guard turboprop to staffing issues. The collision on the runway of the world's third busiest airport is under investigation. All 379 passengers on the Airbus A350 miraculously survived, but five out of six crew members on the smaller Coast Guard aircraft perished.


Control tower transcripts released by the authorities show that the Coast Guard plane was directed to a holding area on a taxiway near the runway as the JAL plane was landing. However, it remains unclear why the plane then entered the runway seemingly undetected. Masato Yamazaki, in the statement, strongly advocated for a significant increase in air traffic controllers, noting that speculations about the crash's cause could mentally strain controllers.

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In response to the accident, authorities mandated constant radar system monitoring for possible runway intrusions at Haneda and other national airports. Yamazaki acknowledged this additional responsibility on the already overburdened staff but expressed hope that the ministry would hire new staff for this role. He mentioned that the government, which directly employs air traffic controllers in Japan, has only partially approved repeated staffing requests in recent years, despite the increased workload on controllers. "This is insufficient to ensure true safety," he stated. The transport ministry of Japan was not immediately available for comment.

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Other nations, including the United States and France, are also struggling with shortages of air traffic control staff, which airlines argue jeopardize aviation safety. According to transport ministry data, the number of air traffic control staff in Japan last year fell to its lowest in at least 19 years, continuing a gradual decline over that period. Despite a significant drop in the number of flights during the COVID pandemic, the number of flights each air traffic control operator handles has been on a steady rise. In 2019, each air traffic control operator in Japan managed nearly 7000 flights, an increase from around 4,600 in 2004, according to ministry records.

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