Japan picks veteran industrialist as new JAL CEO

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Japan's government has asked a veteran industrialist, Kazuo Inamori, to step in as the new chairman of Japan Airlines as the carrier is restructured.

Inamori, the 78-year-old honorary chairman of electronics components manufacturer Kyocera and one of Japan's most respected businessmen, agreed to the request after meeting Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Wednesday, according to news reports from Japan. JAL officials declined comment.

He told reporters afterwards that he would work "without pay, for three to four days a week for the happiness of JAL's employees".

The move to appoint someone without any aviation background comes as JAL prepares to file for Chapter 11 equivalent bankruptcy protection, with industry sources saying that this could come early next week.

JAL CEO Haruka Nishimatsu is expected to step down when the application is filed, with the government's saying that there has to be a management change at the carrier if it is to receive a bail-out. This would be the fourth time that the flag carrier is bailed out by the government since 2001.

"The revival of Japan Airlines is deeply connected to the revival to the Japanese economy," Hatoyama told reporters after meeting Inamori. "I have great expectations for a man whose managerial skill built Kyocera and KDDI in a single lifetime."

Inamori, who founded Kyocera in 1959, turned it into a global manufacturer of electronic products. He also launched telecommunications firm DDI in 1984, and oversaw its merger with two other companies to form KDDI, Japan's second-largest mobile operator.

JAL posted a fiscal second quarter net loss of ¥32.1 billion ($348 million) and has applied to the government-backed Enterprise Turnaround Initiative Corporation of Japan (ETIC) for a bail-out. Its three main creditors have agreed to a restructuring plan that would cut the carrier's debt while keeping its operations alive, Japan's transport minister Seiji Maehara said on Tuesday.

The ETIC is likely to offer ¥300 billion in government funds, while the banks are expected to forgive several hundred billion yen in loans. The carrier is also looking at ways to cut costs and could shed a third of its workforce. It has also received approval from its existing employees and retirees to cut their pension payments.

US carriers Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have also tabled rival proposals to invest in JAL, but a decision on this is unlikely to be made until the carrier goes ahead with its restructuring plans.

"After listening to what they had to say.I told them that JAL's restructuring is possible if the plan is implemented as it is," Inamori told reporters.