Top echelons tumble at JAL

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Japan Airlines (JAL) chief executive Toshiyuki Shinmachi is to resign along with several other senior executives amid a revolt against their leadership of the troubled carrier.

Shinmachi will formally step down late in June and he will be replaced by company veteran Haruka Nishimatsu, who is now JAL’s senior vice-president finance and purchasing. Shinmachi, who became chief executive only last year, will become chairman. Also resigning will be executive vice-president Katsuo Haneda, senior managing director Hidekazu Nishizuka and managing director Takenori Matsumoto.

JAL has given no reason for the resignations, but internal calls for Shinmachi to step down had been growing for weeks after four dissident board members asked him to quit to take responsibility for increased losses and the continuing effects of safety-related issues. Those board members had collected signatures from dozens of department heads joining them in the request, and there have been reports that several hundred more JAL staff added their signatures in the following two weeks.

Asia’s largest airline group has been struggling over the past year as its financial position has deteriorated, in part because of increased fuel costs. It has also been hurt by a series of much-publicised safety issues that have prompted many Japanese travellers to switch their business to rival All Nippon Airways. Shinmachi only became chief executive on 1 April 2005, after long-serving chief Isao Kaneko stepped down. Kaneko originally intended to step down around the middle of last year, but brought forward his retirement to take responsibility for the safety-related issues, which resulted in an unprecedented “business improvement order” from the Japanese government.

NICHOLAS IONIDES / SINGAPORE