Jan 3, 2024 - Technology

3 reasons why everyone aboard Japan Airlines Flight 516 survived

Japan Airlines Flight 516 on fire at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on January 2, 2024. Photo: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images

Japan Airlines Flight 516 ablaze at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Jan. 2, 2024. Photo: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images

That all 379 passengers and crew aboard Japan Airlines Flight 516 survived after the airliner collided with a Japan Coast Guard aircraft in Tokyo on Tuesday is a miracle — but an explicable one, with valuable lessons.

The big picture: As with all major aviation incidents, it will take time for investigators to piece together exactly what caused the crash, which killed five of six aboard the smaller Coast Guard craft.

  • Investigators are focused on communications between the two aircraft involved and air traffic controllers.
  • But even in these early hours, it's becoming clear that several things went right, at least after the collision, including...

A quick evacuation: It reportedly took under 20 minutes from touchdown to complete evacuation of the Japan Airlines Airbus A350.

  • Faster is always better — U.S. rules require that airliners take no longer than 90 seconds to evacuate — but at least in this case, there was enough time to clear the plane.
  • And that's despite several hiccups, including unusable rescue slides and a malfunctioning intercom system, as the Wall Street Journal reports.

Detailed safety briefing: Several aviation experts have lauded Japan Airlines' to-the-point preflight safety video, which shows passengers exactly what to do — and what not to do — in an emergency.

  • That's in stark contrast to many such videos in the U.S., which include the required safety info but also increasingly go for laughs or promote an airline's destinations — and are routinely ignored by travelers regardless.
  • Among the video's suggestions: Leave your baggage behind so it doesn't clog escape routes. (Flight 516 passengers complied, according to the Journal.)

High-tech components: The A350 is one of the first modern passenger airliners to be made extensively of cutting-edge, lightweight composite materials — which may better resist heat, buying time to clear a burning plane.

  • If there's a silver lining here, it's that Flight 516 — the first A350 completely lost to fire — "could provide valuable insight into the flammability of large composite aircraft structures based on in-service experience that have so far been unavailable," Aviation Week reports.
  • Translation: Aircraft makers and regulators will get valuable data to boost safety in future flights.

The bottom line: The biggest takeaways here for travelers: Pay attention to the safety briefing, and in an emergency, do your best to stay calm, listen to your flight attendants and don't try to save your stuff.

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