Plagued by a series of safety lapses, Japan Airlines is putting together an exhibition of wreckage from a 1985 plane crash in what top executives said was a big push to raise awareness about safety among its employees.
The torn fuselage and gnarled collapsed seats from the Aug. 12, 1985, crash of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet that killed 520 people are part of the display at the Safety Development Center, opening April 24. The exhibition near Tokyo's Haneda airport was shown to reporters Wednesday.
Until now, JAL had refused to show the wreckage, citing the feelings of survivors and families of the victims.
But management decided to go ahead with the display, which cost 180 million yen (US$1.5 million; euro1.2 million), as a symbol of the carrier's determination to prevent a recurrence and maintain safety standards, they said.
The exhibit, which may seem like an odd, perhaps even exploitative, way to send a message about flight safety, will be shown to people outside the company upon request.
The crash, the deadliest involving a single plane in aviation history, happened when JAL Flight 123 smashed into a mountainside northwest of Tokyo after losing its vertical tail section on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka. A government investigation blamed improper repairs by Boeing Co. Four people survived.
The exhibit includes the flight data recorder in a glass case, sprawling segments of damaged aircraft, copies of Japanese newspapers and The New York Times with the news on their front pages, and color photographs of metal parts hanging eerily from trees.
Japan Airlines officials acknowledged some family members had mixed feelings about the exhibition.
JAL has had several safety problems since last year, including wheels falling off during a landing, an engine that burst into flames and a flight that took off with a faulty latch.
No one has been injured in the troubles, but the image of Japan Airlines, once prized as the nation's flagship, has been badly tarnished among Japanese travelers, who have switched in droves to rival All Nippon Airways.
I felt that a strong consciousness about the importance of safety was not amply widespread among our ranks, JAL President Toshiyuki Shinmachi told reporters.
Shinmachi has been under pressure from board members to resign and announced last month he is stepping down in June.
The airline has repeatedly promised to beef up safety but has been sinking deeper into trouble, unable to wipe out safety problems. Last month, an airliner run by its subsidiary flying from Tokyo to Guam had to return when a cockpit window cracked.
For the fiscal year ending March 31, Japan Airlines is forecasting a 47 billion yen (US$399 million; euro325 million) loss at a time when soaring oil prices are expected to take an additional toll on all airlines earnings. Japan Airlines hopes to return to the black in fiscal 2006, which began April 1.
Haruka Nishimatsu, tapped to replace Shinmachi, still remembers how heavy the coffins from the 1985 crash felt on his shoulders.
Seeing is believing, he said in English about the exhibit. This is very meaningful.