Flight crew center to close in February
MOSES LAKE - A crowd of about 150 people took a journey through time on Friday during the 40th anniversary celebration of Japan Airlines' flight crew training center near Moses Lake.
With the help of three large screens showing old news clippings and photos and nine people sharing their experiences, the audience learned more about the company's presence in Grant County.
Tales of the annual sixth-grade invitational flight for Moses Lake students, friendships, Moses Lake's sister city exchange program with Yonezawa, Japan, student scholarships and JAL's financial support of flights to Japan and other community causes were also recounted.
The celebration was held despite the flight center's planned closure in February.
Earlier this year, JAL officials cited the high cost of fuel as the main reason and the switch to two-engine aircraft, which are more fuel-efficient.
But JAL will return to the area to train its pilots on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, along with carrying out customer acceptance work, said David M. Bailey, retired Port of Moses Lake executive manager.
Boeing has delayed the production of 787 Dreamliners again after an employee strike in October, according to the Associated Press. A date for delivery of JAL Dreamliners remains unknown.
Martin Goepfert, Alaska Airlines maintenance manager, said the company has performed maintenance for JAL for the past 20 years. Alaska Airlines will leave Moses Lake when JAL departs next year, he said.
Goepfert said he's enjoyed his work experience with JAL "immensely."
"It's been an invaluable learning experience," Goepfert said. "You're a friend for life. When you go back to Japan, they remember you."
Mixed emotions were evident among some people present.
JAL executive administrative assistant Brenda Martinez was applauded for her work with the company. She cried upon receiving a standing ovation.
Shinji Urabayashi, senior consul with the consulate-general of Japan's Seattle office, congratulated JAL on its anniversary and expressed his sincere appreciation for the City of Moses Lake's support of the flight center.
He called the training center's closure unfortunate, shocking and extremely sad. Urabayashi added he hopes to see great jumbo jets take off in the future from Moses Lake.
Antonio Sanchez, director of economic development and international relations with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen's office, said Owen recognizes the economic development efforts in Grant County. Owen loves to visit Big Bend Community College, Sanchez noted.
He said he had mixed feelings coming to Moses Lake, calling the area's relationship with JAL a vision and a marriage.
Moses Lake welcomed JAL with open arms and nurtured the relationship, so it expanded, he noted.
With the economic challenges, Sanchez said he's hopeful for the community. He added he sees no greater community for developing the future than Moses Lake.
State Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, said she has a friend who became a mechanic because of his relationship with JAL.
JAL created many job opportunities and added to the state's diverse economy, Warnick said.
She also spoke of JAL's donations of replica airplanes to auctions and of the airlines' lasting tribute of the Japanese gardens in Moses Lake.
Retired Col. Clyde W. Owen, the former commander of Larson Air Force Basin and former executive Port of Moses Lake manager, talked about JAL's history.
In October 1967, Owen said he received a call from a Boeing pilot who told him of a meeting in Seattle. The pilot asked Owen if there was a place for flight training in Moses Lake.
In March 1968, Owen said he received a communication that a JAL representative would be in the area. Between five to six visits to Moses Lake followed and talks ensued about the area's conditions for a flight center.
Owen also talked about the challenge of finding temporary accommodations for 35 trainees and 14 million gallons of jet fuel. The challenges were met and a training flight was done in a 747.
"They will be greatly missed," he said.
Owen received a rare certificate of appreciation stamped by the Emperor of Japan.
Bailey reflected on JAL's history and operations in Moses Lake. Before coming to Moses Lake, JAL was training crews in Hilo, Hawaii, where there was concerns about flying hours, noise and corrosion, he said.
Bailey spoke about a training accident on June 24, 1969, which claimed the lives of three trainees. But he called JAL's training record remarkable, considering the number of landings performed at the center.
It's estimated more than 10,000 pilots trained at the facility, Bailey said.
"It was a terrific revenue source for this community," he noted.
Moses Lake Mayor Ron Covey called JAL the best of the best neighbors.
He talked about how JAL provided transportation for students involved in the sister city exchange, for city staff and for Miss Moses Lake to foster positive relations.
JAL also gave more than $64,000 to the parks program and 85 flowing cherry trees to the city.
The 1981 explosion of Mt. St. Helens brought $31,000 from JAL for ash clean-up, he said.
"I just hope we have been as good a neighbor to you as you've been to us," Covey noted.
Paul Hirai and Doug Sly with the Sister City Committee also spoke.
Hirai read a translated message from Yukio Seino, the CEO/editor of the Yonezawa Press, who was instrumental in establishing the sister city agreement between Yonezawa and Moses Lake.
Seino stated his emotions run very deep and are special when he thinks about his relationship with Moses Lake and JAL.
"When World War II ended, Mr. Shimogaki of Wyoming, a relative of the late Harold Tokunaga, sent my family relief supplies, and I have felt a deep obligation to the United States (because of his kindness)," Seino stated.
Seino was later asked by JAL to bridge the cultures of Yonezawa and Moses Lake.
"I felt that this was some kind of a sign for me to fulfill an obligation, and I made the decision to exert my energy toward establishing the friendships between our two cities," Seino wrote.
He also stated he hopes the program will continue.
Sly said he was part of the first Sister City delegation in 1979 and noted how the availability of interpreters added to the trip.
The program remains a life-changing experience for everyone who have the opportunity to participate, he said.
Participants are told to have an open mind on the trip, as so much of what they're seeing is new, Sly noted.
Air America Fuel & Service President Larry Godden talked about being on the flight with 500 Moses Lake students in 1993. (Air America is a fixed base operator at the Grant County International Airport)
He joked about how the plane dipped when a rush of students moved from their seats at the same time. With a few quick motions, the pilot kept the plane flying straight, he said.
He also thanked a long list of employees and companies involved with JAL's work.
Toshitake Yamazaki, JAL's vice president and deputy general manager of flight crew training, called Moses Lake the home of the flight crews.
Without Moses Lake, there would be no JAL flight crews, he said.
He mentioned two historical events for JAL, the fatal trainee accident in 1969 and the signing of the sister city agreement.
Yamazaki wished Moses Lake and its citizens prosperity for the future.
A sake ceremony ended the event. Port of Moses Lake Commissioner Delone Krueger, Urabayashi, Yamazaki and Covey used wooden hammers to break open a lid of the Japanese alcoholic drink.
It just took the men one hit to shatter the lid. People lined up to taste the sake, which was ladled into small wooden boxes to drink.