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Japan: Air Traffic Controllers Found Guilty

(Dec. 1, 2010) On October 26, 2010, Japan's Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Tokyo High Court that found two air traffic controllers guilty of causing bodily injury due to negligence. (Decision of the Supreme Court, Hei 20 [2008] (a) 920 [in Japanese] [information only, not text of the Decision], Courts in Japan website,
(last visited Nov. 29, 2010).) One controller was sentenced to 18 months in prison, the other to 12 months. Both verdicts were suspended for three years. The two air traffic controllers are the first air traffic controllers to have been prosecuted for being criminally responsible for a near collision between aircrafts. (Lead: Not Guilty Verdict Revoked, 2 Air Controllers Given Suspended Sentences+, BREITBART (Apr. 11, 2008),

The case dates back to 2001, when there was a near collision between two Japan Airlines planes over the Pacific. One of the air traffic controllers, who was in training at that time, mistakenly instructed Flight 907, instead of Flight 958, to descend in order to avoid a collision between the two aircraft. The other air traffic controller was supervising him. While the controller-in-training stated the wrong flight number and the pilot of Flight 907 repeated the same number and the instruction, neither controller noticed the mistake. Flight 907 then proceeded to descend, contrary to the instruction to gain altitude shown on the traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS). When Flight 907 approached Flight 958, which followed the instruction on its system to descend, Flight 907 nose dived to avoid a collision. A total of 57 passengers on Flight 907 were injured. (Id. & SaikĊ Saibansho [Sup. Ct., 1st petit bench] Oct. 26, 2010, Hei 20 (a) 920, Courts in Japan website, Even had the pilot of Flight 907 followed the TCAS alert and the near collision been avoided, the Supreme Court found, a relation of cause and effect persisted between the air traffic controllers' mistaken wording and instructions and the near collision.