Japan yesterday asked Taiwan to improve aviation safety after a fuel tank hole was suspected of sending a China Airlines plane into flames moments after landing.
All 165 passengers and crew fled to safety, sliding down emergency chutes with minutes to spare as the Boeing 737-800 burst into flames and then exploded after landing on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Monday last week.
The Japanese aviation bureau asked Taiwan via diplomatic channels to ensure safety, a ministry official said.
"The aviation bureau requested that the Taiwanese authorities exert utmost efforts to prevent a recurrence of accidents and increase safety by giving new instructions" to airlines on flight operations and maintenance, a statement said.
While an investigation is in progress, the ministry said it had found that a bolt fell off of a slat, a movable flap on the front of the right wing, and damaged the fuel tank.
The transport ministry official, who is in charge of the issue, said the request was not a criticism of China Airlines.
"We have no proof that the accident occurred due to any fault by China Airlines," he said.
"We believe the Taiwanese authorities are regularly instructing [airlines] over safety but we asked them just to be double-sure," he said.
The request was conveyed to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan, which is Taiwan's representative office in the absence of diplomatic ties.
In related news, the US Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency directive on Monday for owners of Boeing 737s to inspect key wing hardware after the China Airlines incident.
The US air industry regulator gave owners and operators of the six series of the Boeing 737 24 days to inspect the wing slat assemblies of the aircraft as a result of the suspicions that a bolt on the China Airlines passenger jet came loose and ruptured the fuel tank.
Besides the China Airlines case, the FAA said it had received reports of a loosened nut inside the housing of the retractable slats on the wing's leading edge puncturing the housing resulting in a fuel leak.
"Loose or missing parts from the main slat track downstop assemblies, if not detected and corrected, could result in a fuel leak and consequent fire," the FAA said in its Emergency Airworthiness Directive.
The directive would affect the most recent post-1995 generation of Boeing 737s of the 600, 700, 700C, 800, 900 and 900ER series.
There are some 4,495 Boeing 737s in service around the world.