“We strongly urge the realisation of a significant increase in the number of air traffic controllers,” Masato Yamazaki said in the statement, adding that speculation about the cause of the crash risked putting mental strains on controllers.
As an emergency measure in the wake of the accident, authorities ordered air traffic control towers at Haneda and other airports across the country to constantly monitor radar systems for possible runway intrusions.
Yamazaki said this was further burdening stretched staff, although he said he was hopeful the ministry would make fresh hires to fulfil this function.
He said repeated staffing requests to the government, which directly employs air traffic controllers in Japan, have been only partially approved in recent years despite increased workload on controllers.
“It is not enough to establish true safety,” he said.
Japan’s transport ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Other countries including the United States and France are grappling with air traffic control staff shortages that airlines have argued pose risks to aviation safety.
Last year, the number of air traffic control staff in Japan dropped to its lowest level in at least 19 years, according to transport ministry data, continuing a gradual decline over that period.
Aside from a sharp fall in the number of flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of flights handled by each operator has been steadily increasing. In 2019, each air traffic control operator in Japan handled nearly 7,000 flights, up from around 4,600 in 2004, according to the ministry’s records.
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