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Business News/ News / Lessons to be learnt from the fire incident of Japan Airlines
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Lessons to be learnt from the fire incident of Japan Airlines

What airlines and aircraft have to do to keep the flying public safe. While accidents will happen, efforts can help prevent loss of life.

Officials look at the burnt wreckage of a Japan Airlines (JAL) passenger plane on the tarmac at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda in Tokyo on January 3, 2024, the morning after the JAL airliner hit a smaller coast guard plane on the ground. Five people aboard a Japan coast guard aircraft died on January 2 when it hit a Japan Airlines passenger plane on the ground in a fiery collision at Tokyo's Haneda airport. (Photo by Richard A. Brooks / AFP) (AFP)Premium
Officials look at the burnt wreckage of a Japan Airlines (JAL) passenger plane on the tarmac at Tokyo International Airport at Haneda in Tokyo on January 3, 2024, the morning after the JAL airliner hit a smaller coast guard plane on the ground. Five people aboard a Japan coast guard aircraft died on January 2 when it hit a Japan Airlines passenger plane on the ground in a fiery collision at Tokyo's Haneda airport. (Photo by Richard A. Brooks / AFP) (AFP)

For those who were in Japan Airlines (JAL) Airbus A350 aircraft which crashed into a De Havilland Dash 8 turboprop aircraft at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Tuesday evening, it was a miracle. The five of the six on board the turboprop aircraft died while the over 300 flyers on the JAL aircraft left the burning plane and arrived at their destination safely.

There are various reasons for this miraculous saving of the flyers. First is the Japanese culture. The Japanese term ‘Kiritsu’, or “disciplinary practice or self-discipline in various acts of life be it school, work, or social interactions", is practiced by the Japanese. And this is what happened when the plane caught fire. The crew had the presence of mind to figure out the safest door to evacuate the flyers as there were flames everywhere. They picked a door at the rear and guided the flyers to calmly walk out of the aircraft.  

Compare this to the Emirates Boeing 777 which also crashed while landing at Dubai airport in 2016. Video clips of this flight (which originated in Kerala) showed passengers arguing with the cabin crew and carrying their hand bags as they evacuated the aircraft. Luckily there were no casualties. 

What also helped was the superior technology used in the modern generation aircraft like the 350 and 787. These planes have fire walls that delay or prevent them from burning immediately. This is because carbon fibre materials (of which these aircraft are made) burn at 350 degrees while aluminium (of which earlier aircraft were made) burnt at around 700 degree.  

A 2007 FAA study on the flammability properties of carbon fibre composites says that the composite body in these modern aircraft retains its structure but eventually burns from the vaporization of the resin.

“When it burns, the resin vapor is forced out of the fibre pores. The fibres create an insulating, char-like structure that causes a reduction in the internal heating, and consequently, the burning rate drops in time. As the burning rate drops, extinction can naturally occur due to insufficient heating," the study says.

A cross section of Indian pilot who fly widebody aircraft like the JAL aircraft felt it was a combination of things including the flight having the correct cabin crew who had the presence of mind to ensure the use of only one section of the aircraft to evacuate and ‘Kiritsu’ following which the flyers listened to the cabin crew which resulted in a quick evacuation.

JAL also pays a lot of attention to its safety training – Japan has had a clean safety record for flying for over four decades. The accident on Tuesday was the first in the last 40 years.

The airline set up a Corporate Safety & Security Division in 2006 consisting of professional staff members knowledgeable about the operation, maintenance, cabins, airports and cargo. Using this organization as a source of power, JAL drives a safety management structure across the whole group.

The document lists out eight accidents involving JAL aircraft between April 1952 and August 1985 including one in Delhi Palam in June 1972 when JAL flight 471 being operated by a Dakota aircraft slammed into the banks of the Yamuna river before Palam airport resulting in the death of 86 passengers and crew and injuring three others. 

In 2006, Japan Airlines opened a museum-like facility near Haneda for promoting safety awareness among its employees.

"In face of the pain and grief of the bereaved families and public distrust in airline safety [after the 1985 crash], we pledged that we would never again allow such a tragic accident to occur," Japan Airlines wrote on the facility's webpage.

All this shows what airlines and aircraft have to do to keep the flying public safe. While accidents will happen, efforts can help prevent loss of life. 

Further, the incident also shows that major cities need to have more than one airport which is capable of handling large aircraft. When the accident happened at Haneda airport, the airport had to be shut but the remaining flights to Tokyo were not disrupted as they were diverted to Narita airport. 

Of course, the situation in India is very different right now. If an aircraft has to be diverted from Mumbai it lands at Ahmedabad or Hyderabad, inconveniencing flyers. Same is the case with Delhi where the planes are diverted to Jaipur, Amritsar and Lucknow. Hopefully this will change soon as new airports are coming up in both Mumbai and Delhi. 

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Published: 04 Jan 2024, 12:24 PM IST
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