Japan — The Fire and Disaster Management Agency will set up a group of experts this spring to examine how to respond to a shortage of helicopters pilots trained for firefighting and disaster relief operations.
The agency, under the internal affairs ministry, is concerned Japan will soon face a severe lack of pilots for such specialized missions because the ranks of active pilots are aging and the number of young pilots remains small.
As of this month, 76 helicopters for firefighting and disaster relief missions were owned by local governments nationwide. The deployment of such helicopters was promoted following the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed over 6,400 people in Kobe and surrounding areas.
But as of March 1, 2014, local governments only had access to 105 pilots in total for firefighting and disaster relief helicopters. Their average age came to 45.6 years, and those in their mid-40s and 50s accounted for 60 percent of the total.
With fire and disaster rescue helicopters increasingly deployed at hospitals around the country, the shortage of pilots is already becoming severe. As these helicopters fly over hazardous zones, around 10 years is necessary to train head pilots, an official of the agency said.
The study group, to consist of academics, local government bureaucrats and airline officials, will draw up by the end of fiscal 2015 specific measures to secure the necessary number of pilots.