Global insight

B747 freighter airline Nippon Cargo forced to suspend operations

B747 freighter airline Nippon Cargo forced to suspend operations

JAPANESE specialist air cargo carrier Nippon Cargo Airlines (NCA) has been forced to ground its fleet of 11 B747 freighters after government inspectors uncovered incorrect maintenance records, writes Nigel Tomkins.

The Tokyo (Narita)-based cargo airline is also facing possible future disciplinary measures for violating international safety standards.

The subsidiary of marine shipping company Nippon Yusen grounded its fleet of 11 aircraft – three B747-400Fs and eight B747-8 freighters – while it checks for further discrepancies in the company’s logs.

The sudden grounding has sent regular customers desperately scrambling for alternative options, observers note, with the suspension initially affecting a minimum of 300 tonnes, the equivalent of three entire B747F loads.

The company is to keep the jets grounded while it carries out safety checks.

Nippon Cargo Airlines ranks as Japan’s second-largest airfreight company behind Japan Air Lines and All Nippon Airways, the ANA Holdings division.

It operates some 60 flights weekly to and from Narita Airport near Tokyo, serving hub cities in Asia, North America and in Europe. Nippon Cargo operates services linking Japan and many other countries, including fifth-freedom services that run directly between foreign cities.

Nippon Cargo regularly transports important Japanese exports that cannot travel in the belly holds of passenger flights, such as chip-making equipment and cars. Other goods it transports include precision machinery and temperature-controlled perishables, including foodstuffs.

The decision to temporarily ground the freighter airline’s fleet comes after Japanese aviation authority regulators discovered it had been incorrectly documenting its technical maintenance records.

The transport ministry opened inspections at the Narita-based company when it was found to be negligent in reporting serious damage to its aircraft on multiple occasions, it is alleged.

Nippon Cargo Airlines responded by advising the ministry that it is suspending operations of all 11 B747 jets, starting with flights that were due to leave airports in Japan on Saturday.

The inaccurate maintenance logs were discovered during inspections by Japan’s transport ministry and came to light last month following on from two bird-strikes suffered by Nippon Cargo B747s in January 2017 and March 2018, each incident subsequently requiring what the ministry deemed to be major repairs.

The carrier’s failure to report the incidents promptly led to the inspections, according to statements in the region.

NCA officials believe the safety checks will may take at least one week, pointing out that the company will do its best to ensure the fleet is safe to fly before resuming operations.

“We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience and worries we have caused our customers. We will do our utmost effort to check safety for resuming operation as quickly as possible,” says a statement.

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