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Tottori’s appointment is all the more significant in a country which continues to grapple with gender equality issues.

Mitsuko Tottori started her career at Japan Airlines in 1985 welcoming passengers aboard. Now she’s being welcomed as the incoming president of JAL.

The move is particularly significant in a country that has well-documented disparities between men and women in the workplace. A 2023 report found that the gender pay gap for full-time earners in Japan is among the widest of OECD nations, at around 22%.

What makes Tottori’s appointment even more notable is that aviation is an industry where senior posts are still male-dominated. The problem is so severe that IATA, the sector’s trade body, has launched a ‘25by25’ campaign to boost representation and diversity at all levels.

Tottori joins a small but growing band of female airline leaders. These include Joanna Geraghty, who just last week was appointed as the new CEO of JetBlue; the first woman to lead a major U.S. carrier. Other high-profile figures on the global stage include KLM chief Marjan RintelAir France CEO, Anne Rigail, and Yvonne Makolo who is IATA chair and CEO of RwandAir.

On the plane manufacturing side, Stephanie Pope was named last month as Boeing’s new Chief Operating Officer, a critical role that oversees the performance of three major business units.

Japan Airlines in the Spotlight

The progression from Tottori’s frontline job to fronting the entire company has been hard-fought. In 2005, some 20 years after joining JAL, she secured her first junior management position overseeing cabin crew.

Over the next two decades, Tottori held a variety of increasingly senior roles, including customer experience and cabin safety briefs. She is currently Japan Airlines’ Chief Customer Officer and is due to start her new position on April 1 when the current president, Yuji Akasaka, becomes company chairperson.

Her appointment comes just two weeks after Japan Airlines faced one of the worst accidents in its recent history. On January 2, a JAL Airbus A350 collided with a Coast Guard aircraft at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. All 367 passengers and 12 crew members aboard the Airbus plane survived, however, five of the six aboard the smaller turboprop lost their lives.

In the wake of the accident, the airline was praised for its rigorous crew training, which helped ensure an efficient evacuation of the jet. An official investigation into the collision is continuing.

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Tags: air france, Boeing, japan, japan airlines, RwandAir

Photo credit: A Japan Airlines A350 Airbus/Luce Borrel Airbus/Luce Borrel / Airbus/Luce Borrel

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