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Crash in Japan: communication between controllers and pilots at the heart of the questions

“The likelihood of human error increases.

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Crash in Japan: communication between controllers and pilots at the heart of the questions

“The likelihood of human error increases.” 72 hours after the spectacular and tragic collision between a Japan Airlines (JAL) A350 and a Japanese Coast Guard turboprop on the runway of Tokyo-Haneda airport, the headline of the daily Yomiuri points out, like other media, the responsibility of the small plane. With strong arguments.

The Ministry of Transport has made public the recording of conversations between the control tower and the two pilots of the aircraft just before their collision: we hear an air traffic controller asking the pilot of the coast guard plane to stop edge of the runway, then the latter conscientiously repeats the order - before, in an as yet unexplained manner, breaking it and placing himself on the runway, right in the middle of the path of the A350, authorized to land. “It reminds us of someone crossing a highway without taking the time to look to see if a car is going to pass,” explains an executive in the aeronautics industry.

Genki Miyamoto, the pilot of the turboprop and sole survivor of his crew, claimed, according to relatives cited by the press, to have had authorization to take off. Misunderstanding between the two interlocutors? In any case, he was operating in a very tense context: 24 hours earlier, the man had returned from a seven-hour surveillance mission around the island of Okinotorishima, 1,700 kilometers from Tokyo, Reuters revealed. As for the plane, it was on its third rescue mission in less than 24 hours to the disaster region of Ishikawa (western Japan), damaged by an earthquake on January 1st.

Aggravating circumstance: the coast guard plane did not have an ADS-B transponder, as revealed by the site Flightradar24, which made it undetectable on the ground from the Tokyo-Haneda control tower. This device, which allows the location of the aircraft, is gradually being generalized by the national aeronautical authorities, without being obligatory. “The protagonists were unlucky,” said Hiroshi Sugie, former JAL pilot.

The questions focus on the few minutes which preceded the disaster. The A350 hit the coastguard plane after it had been stationary on the runway for forty seconds, an unusually long time. “At large airports, planes take off at intervals of one minute and a half. Pilots who have authorization to take off do not wait too long: once committed, they try to leave as quickly as possible, for safety and so as not to delay the following ones. Why stay there?” asks an industry executive.

Another inevitable question, mirrored: the unconsciousness of the danger by the other protagonists for such a period. In the revealed audio recording, air traffic control and the A350 crew do not detect at any time the inopportune presence of the small plane on the runway. “It seems that there is no redundant measure at Haneda that would have sent an alert to the pilots and the air traffic controller – what we technically call a “safety net”,” explains a connoisseur of the Japanese airport network. .

Also read Tokyo Airport: other air disasters avoided at the last minute thanks to the coolness of the crew

A Japanese expert on airport security issues, an airline pilot, believes that Japanese airports, including Tokyo-Haneda, are on par with comparable foreign airports. “Most planes do not yet have an ADS-B transponder and if the Coast Guard plane had one, the accident was still possible. Abroad, runway incursion prevention systems also have their share of errors. Finally, only one question remains: why did the pilot of this small plane enter this runway at this time?

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