Tokyo: Misconduct involving pilots and alcohol consumption from multiple airlines have been cropping up one after the other, and the Mainichi Shimbun investigated the state of the industry to trace the cause of the problems.
In October 2018, a male co-pilot who was scheduled to board a Japan Airlines Co. aircraft bound for Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was arrested in London by British authorities for testing over the legal limit for alcohol in his system. He was handed 10 months in prison for the incident.
“Along with the increase in routes and flights, the work done per person has expanded recently,” said an aircraft captain in his 40s who is in charge of the controls on an international route of a major airline company. After 11 a.m. one day in December last year, he set off from Narita Airport east of Tokyo toward Mumbai, India. There is a three-and-half-hour time difference between origin and destination, so he arrived at the airport in Mumbai at around 6:30 p.m. local time, 10 p.m. in Japan. By the time he reached his hotel bed, it was already 2 a.m. Japan time.
But the hardest part was the return flight. The flight departed Mumbai for Narita at 8 a.m. (11:30 a.m. Japan time) and landed in Japan the following day after 7 a.m. Along with his co-pilot, the captain had to pull an all-nighter sitting in the cockpit, and he was only able to take breaks to go to the toilet during the close to eight-hour flight.
The pilot flies roundtrip between Japan and the world’s urban centers four to five times a month, coming in at a maximum of 90 hours of flight time. However, according to a pilot from the same airline that quit nine years ago, when he was piloting, he only did two to two-and-a-half long-distance international roundtrips monthly. “Back then, it was unheard of for time in the air to exceed 80 hours a month,” he said.
A pilot in his 50s with another airline said, “Not only have the number of flights, but late night and early morning shifts have also increased. Due to a shortage of labor, the reality is that each person is working to their absolute limit.”