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Japan and USA: How BALPA helps members involved in similar incidents

by Joji Waites Head of Flight Safety, BALPA

Why being in a union is vital for pilots

Were less than two weeks into 2024, and its already been a busy year for flight safety professionals with the two high profile events in Japan and the USA attracting widespread media and public attention.

Whilst the two events had dramatically different outcomes and acknowledging their investigations are still ongoing, it is heartening to observe, even at this early stage, that parts of the aviation system appeared to work well in preventing far worse consequences. For example, the efficient conduct of the emergency evacuation from the JAL A350 and the aircrew’s emergency descent and landing of the B737 MAX. 

Heroes or Villains?

Thinking about media coverage of accidents, it is not unusual for key personnel involved to be portrayed as heroes or villains – or sometimes both during the course of an investigation!

As well as avoiding unhelpful public speculation of about the cause of an accident, BALPA advocates open-minded, blame and judgement-free investigations. We believe the objective should always be genuine learning at a systemic level so that future tragedies can be avoided.

In all walks of life, nobody goes to work seeking to make mistakes or to cause harm.  That’s why it’s important for investigations to grasp why it made sense at the time for a pilot, engineer, air traffic controller, etc. to make a certain decision or to take a specific action (or not to). Investigators must then understand what the circumstances or contributory factors were that placed individuals in such a situation.

Only by understanding these factors can we begin to learn the lessons to help achieve lasting change. BBC footage of The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducting an investigation into the Alaska Airlines mid-air blowout incident shows the forensic process required in the wake of airline accidents and incidents, ensuring every factor and variable is taken into account. 

BALPA’s comprehensive support

BALPA takes such an approach when providing support for its members that become involved in these kinds of events. We have accident investigation trained specialists to assist pilots in the immediate aftermath and during the course of an investigation. Our members also have access to specialists that can offer legal help, communication experts to provide advice on media management and trained peers to talk and listen to them on a personal level.

The ONLY UK pilots union with worldwide links though IFALPA

Should a BALPA member experience an event overseas, they benefit from our international network of support through the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), so no matter when or where an incident may occur, BALPA is on hand to support its members.

Our thoughts are with those involved in the two events, and particularly those close to the aircrew tragically lost on the Japan Coast Guard aircraft. Let’s allow the accident investigators the space and time to complete their work, so that the aviation system as a whole can learn the lessons necessary to help prevent similar events in the future.


If you want to learn more about how pilots play a vital role in making every flight a safe flight, you can read “Understanding What Goes Well to Deliver Flight Safety” by Joji Waites, Head of Flight Safety at BALPA.

You could have access to the support we offer our members, by joining BALPA today.