An All Nippon Airways (ANA) Boeing 737-800 carrying 136 passengers and crew was forced to return to Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport on January 13th after a crack was discovered in the cockpit’s windshield, about 70 minutes into flight #1182. No injuries were reported among the 119 passengers and 7 crew members.
Timeline of Events
The aircraft took off from New Chitose Airport at 12:28 pm local time, bound for Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on a regularly scheduled domestic flight. Approximately 70 minutes into the flight at an altitude of 9,800 meters, the pilot noticed a crack developing in the copilot’s side windshield. As a safety precaution, the pilot immediately requested clearance to return to Sapporo. The aircraft landed safely back at New Chitose Airport at 2:40 pm.
|Flight #1182 departs New Chitose Airport
|Crack discovered in cockpit windshield at 9,800 meter altitude
|Pilot requests clearance to return to Sapporo
|Aircraft lands safely back at New Chitose Airport
Upon landing, the aircraft was taken out of service for inspection and the passengers were rebooked on alternative flights. ANA stated that the cause of the crack is still under investigation.
Initial Investigation Into Cause
ANA executives told reporters that the windshield appeared to have cracked when the aircraft reached an altitude of 9,800 meters, but the exact cause remains unknown. Cockpit windows are designed to withstand collisions with birds and extreme temperatures, but can still occasionally develop faults.
The cracked window pane was the copilot’s, made of several layers of plastic and glass. ANA said it will work with Boeing to determine what specifically caused this critical safety component to fail. Investigators will examine factors like the aircraft’s maintenance history, manufacturing records, and operational stresses that may have contributed.
Professor of Aviation at Tokai University, Hideaki Nakahara, said the risk to passengers had been relatively low despite the dramatic return. Modern airliner windshields have multiple protective layers, so that even if breakage or cracks occur, the remaining layers prevent a catastrophic depressurization.
Wider Issues for Boeing 737 Model
This incident has put the spotlight again on recurring issues with Boeing’s workhorse 737 model. While ANA characterized this as an isolated incident, other variants of the Boeing 737 aircraft have faced recent safety questions.
The Boeing 737 MAX model was grounded globally in 2019 after two fatal crashes exposed an unsafe flight handling system. After design repairs, the MAX resumed service in late 2020 but several subsequent incidents have led to temporary re-groundings in China as recently as 2022.
Separately, Boeing’s larger 737-800 model (the type involved in this ANA incident) has also had multiple recent examples of safety issues. Just last month, a 737-800 crashed during landing in Nepal in an accident that is still under investigation by authorities.
In 2021, a 737-800 carrying 132 passengers also experienced engine failure and returned safely to Honolulu airport. While commercial aviation remains extremely safe statistically, both Boeing and global regulators face calls for continued vigilance.
Professor Nakahara said, “These incidents have resulted in closer ongoing oversight. Boeing continues to work on improving redundancy protection and decay-resistance in their windshield systems across the 737 class.”
Impact on Affected Passengers
While flight #1182 returned without harm to passengers and crew, their travel plans were significantly disrupted. The re-booking process led to extended delays for some and overnight hotel stays for passengers unable to be accommodated on later flights.
Kentaro Yamade, 37, was returning to Tokyo after a ski trip in northern Japan. He described his experience: “The pilot made an announcement asking everyone to return to their seats and fasten seatbelts due to air turbulence. Minutes later we turned around abruptly. The crew looked shaken. After we landed, it took hours before I was given a new flight assignment. I missed an entire afternoon of work.”
Mr Yamade says ANA provided hotel vouchers and meal tickets to affected passengers forced to stay overnight in Sapporo. Still, he expressed frustration over the wasted time and impact on his work responsibilities.
Industry analysts say ANA’s response will be an important test case in maintaining passenger confidence. The airline industry is still recovering from a massive drop in travel during the COVID pandemic. Quick and passenger-focused response to operational incidents like Sapporo flight #1182 can minimize reputational fallout.
Within hours of landing, ANA already issued public statements expressing regret and committing to determine root causes. The coming days and weeks will indicate if this is deemed sufficient redress by its customers and by Japanese regulators overseeing aviation safety requirements.
Looking Ahead at Impact
Looking ahead, flights disrupted by this incident are likely to see cascading delays as the aircraft shortage impacts tightly orchestrated timetables. Early reports showed 21 flights scheduled from New Chitose were cancelled entirely in the 24 hours following the event.
Boeing will also conduct extensive investigations into potential windshield problems – likely revisiting manufacturing techniques, quality testing protocols, operating procedures, and system redundancy protections.
Aviation regulators in Japan and other nations will be scrutinizing this situation as well, with priorities split between confirming it was an isolated incident and improving multi-layered backup mechanisms for such crucial safety equipment.
In the longer term, the flying public remains sensitive to visible airliner defects following the 737 MAX crashes. Boeing’s reputation and bottom line results took a significant hit from those prior incidents. Quick acknowledgment and accountability from both ANA and Boeing will be required to rebuild passenger confidence after this week’s dramatic windshield failure.
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