Mitsuko Tottori has been appointed as the first female president of Japan Airlines, following a tragic collision between one of its planes and a coast guard aircraft during the Japanese New Year holidays, which resulted in the loss of five lives.
Currently serving as the senior managing executive officer of JAL, Tottori has achieved a remarkable feat by climbing the ranks from a cabin attendant to the company’s new leader.
During a press conference held on Wednesday, she expressed her unwavering commitment to aviation safety and emphasized its significance as a top priority.
Tottori is scheduled to assume her new role in April, succeeding JAL’s current president and CEO, Yuji Akasaka. Meanwhile, Akasaka will transition to the position of chairman, taking over from Yoshiharu Ueki.
The appointment of Tottori comes two weeks after the tragic collision at Tokyo’s bustling Haneda airport, which was largely attributed to human error.
Japan Airlines Airbus A350-900 and Coast Guard Bombardier Dash-8 Engulfed in Flames
On January 2nd, JAL’s Airbus A350-900, carrying 379 passengers and crew, landed directly behind the coast guard’s much smaller Bombardier Dash-8, which was preparing to take off on the same seaside runway.
The collision resulted in both aircraft being engulfed in flames.
All passengers on the JAL airliner were safely evacuated within 18 minutes, but unfortunately, five out of six coast guard flight crew members lost their lives.
Tottori commended the commitment to safety displayed by the cabin attendants of JAL Flight 516, who successfully evacuated everyone on board. She also expressed gratitude towards the passengers for their cooperation.
Acknowledge Need for Improvement in Wake of Collision Investigation
However, she acknowledged that the accident highlighted the need for further improvements.
The ongoing investigation into the collision is primarily focused on determining whether the coast guard aircraft received clearance for takeoff.
A partial release of the air traffic control transcript revealed that there was no clear approval given to the Bombardier, which was on a mission to deliver relief supplies to the residents affected by a magnitude 7.6 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks in Japan’s north-central region on New Year’s Day.
JAL’s current president, Akasaka, expressed his hope that the investigation would provide valuable lessons.
He also emphasized the industry-wide safety risk associated with relying solely on voice communication between pilots and air traffic control, highlighting the need for a shift towards digital communication.
During the news conference, Tottori, seated beside Akasaka, emphasized her unwavering commitment to safety.
She began her career as a flight attendant in 1985, shortly after the tragic crash of JAL Flight 123 into a mountain north of Tokyo, which claimed the lives of 520 people, with only four survivors.
This incident deeply impacted her and instilled in her a strong sense of responsibility to prioritize aviation safety and pass on its importance to future generations.
Tottori concluded by stating that safety is the cornerstone of an airline company, and she is dedicated to ensuring safe operations with utmost diligence.
Coast Guard Commandant Apologizes and Assures Cooperation in Wake of Collision
In addition, on Wednesday, Coast Guard Commandant Shohei Ishii made his first public appearance since the collision and expressed his apologies to the public, as well as to the JAL flight crew and passengers, for the distress and inconvenience caused.
He also extended his condolences to the five victims associated with his organization.
Ishii assured that the coast guard would fully cooperate with the transport safety board and police investigation regarding the collision. He emphasized that the organization would make every effort to enhance safety measures based on the investigation’s findings.
However, he refrained from commenting on the coast guard’s own findings or speculating about the potential cause of the incident.
Following the collision, the coast guard has temporarily suspended flights at its Haneda base, where the Bombardier aircraft is stationed, in order to focus on accident response and address the mental well-being of its members.
Ishii mentioned that the coast guard has also conducted an emergency review of its aviation safety manual and procedures.