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The training that saved JAL passengers was worth every yen

13 Comments
JAL cabin crew walk through the arrival area at Haneda airport in Tokyo. Photo: Mindaugas Dulinskas/iStock

More than two weeks after JAL Flight 516 from New Chitose airport struck a Japan Coast Guard plane on Haneda airport Runway C and burst into flames, people are still talking about the "miracle" that enabled 379 passengers and crew members to evacuate without a single fatality.

These repercussions were quickly felt, perhaps in an unanticipatedly positive manner: When the Tokyo stock market opened for trading on January 4, JAL shares rose by 0.8% over the year end's closing quotation.

Flash (Jan 23) did some more digging.

According to air transport specialist Kazuo Hideshima, the miracle can be credited to "the 5 items of the STS," the five things that must absolutely be confirmed during takeoffs and landings. These are: 1) impact prevention position; 2) control to prevent passengers from panicking; 3) decision on whether or not to evacuate; 4) designation of the evacuation routes; and 5) directing the evacuation.

"The STS stands for 'silent thirty seconds,'" Hideshima continued. "During that time span, the routes of evacuation and their order must be decided precisely. I suppose in the case of the evacuation this time things went well because they adhered to these fundamentals."

Former JAL pilot Hiroshi Sugie tells Flash that the quality of the company's training is second to none.

"JAL's training and facilities for emergency evacuation are considerably above those of other carriers," he boasted. "Once a year, there's a rule that pilots and cabin attendants must attend a stringent training course or they won't qualify to fly. Many of the instructors are regarded as 'demon teachers' due to their arduous approach."

In its earlier incarnation as the national carrier, JAL was often disparaged for its privileged treatment by "Oyakata Hinomaru" -- the Japanese equivalent of Uncle Sam -- that insulated it from close oversight and financial problems. Then after the Lehman Shock of 2008, the company had a close brush with insolvency and actually turned away several offers of mergers with U.S. carriers, which would have been regarded as humiliating.

In January 2010, Kyocera Corporation founder Kazuo Inamori was appointed as CEO, and was entrusted with overhauling the company. The "JAL Philosophy" that Inamori engendered adhered to the nurturing principle that "Competence will always progress."

"JAL became a company that made considerable investments in time and money for staff training," said journalist Norifumi Mizogami. "At ordinary companies, outlays for staff training are about ¥30,000 per person. In fiscal 2018, JAL spent ¥470,000 per person."

Due to the COVID pandemic, however, outlays for training declined to ¥110,000.

With reduced passenger demand from 2020, the company farmed out cabin attendants to other jobs, and also kept them busy training. Compared with 71 hours in 2018, training hours were boosted to 260 hours in 2022.

"Under difficult business conditions, they cut expenditures but didn't reduce the training," Mizogami pointed out.

During the business downturn, some cabin attendants were seconded to work at Nojima retail home electronics stores. It proved a mutually beneficial experience.

"Some shops actually received thank-you letters from customers pleased by their solicitous treatment."

Following the collision at Haneda on Jan 2, the cabin attendants weren't able to communicate with the pilots, so they instructed the passengers using handheld megaphones. Air travel specialist Kotaro Toriumi believes their potential may have very well been enhanced by the work they performed outside the company at sales jobs.

"I inquired to a call center where the JAL cabin attendants had been dispatched, and was pleased to have been informed that they'd continued to stick to the manual, while proposing the best options to customers," Toriumi told the magazine. "I suppose that's because while airborne they often received irregular requests.

"They are real pros in terms of dealing with customers," he enthused.

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13 Comments
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Question is,why couldn't the flight attendants communicate with pilots?

Lucky ,this time.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Question is, why couldn't the flight attendants communicate with pilots?

Lucky indeed. As was widely reported in the media, the public announcement and intercom systems were no longer functioning.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

This Crew deserve to be recognised for their Duty and Skill.

All the Crew should receive The Highest Honour Japan has. To be Honoured at The Imperial Palace,

by the Emperor and Empress.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

This crew did a fantastic job. The fire would have gotten to them, too, but they kept their heads and got the passengers out. They do indeed deserve special attention. It wasn't luck that saved those people; it was the crew doing a great job of controlling the situation.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

"JAL's training and facilities for emergency evacuation are considerably above those of other carriers," he boasted..

Well the emergency evacuation's are the norm everywhere, they were just lucky this time, If the coast guard plane was a C130, the collision would have been ... just got lucky with the size of the CG plane.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

How about treating everyone to a re-run of 'Attention Please' (2006) on NHK. It should be part of the in-flight options on JAL flights. Don't forget the subs option.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I don't know why there are few articles about the crew's valor. The entire crew should receive the highest honor handed out by the government and Imperial Family in Japan. Does colliding the the coast guard plane have something to do with this? I've ridden on JAL many times, and also similar domestic carriers and American planes, and JAL by far, has the best customer service.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Question: how did the JAL cabin crew’s response and decision making compare to the TEPCO Fukushima nuclear power plant crew’s response and reaction to that disaster? Was the Japanese “ringisho” system of decision making a part of the critical actions taken?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Any COMPETENT airline staff should be expert at these tasks. Should it be any surprise they managed to actually pull it off ?, or is the safety briefing prior to each take off just “Lip Service” ?

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Well the emergency evacuation's are the norm everywhere, they were just lucky this time,

The norm? What airlines do you fly? I'll be sure to avoid them. I have flown all my life and never once experienced and emergency evacuation.

Training and execution are two different things. If it was Air Canada, we would probably all die while they broadcast announcements about their "award winning cabin attendants."

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Training and preparation are of paramount importance, whether one is dealing with a potential accident, or a potential attack by the likes of North Korea or Russia.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

"Once a year, there's a rule that pilots and cabin attendants must attend a stringent training course or they won't qualify to fly. Many of the instructors are regarded as 'demon teachers' due to their arduous approach."

Um, this is the industry standard.

JAL CAs did a great job, but it’s false to suggest their training is either more rigorous or better than other carriers of comparable size.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The training that saved JAL passengers was worth every yen

In a China Airlines crash in Naha almost 20 years ago, passengers were evacuated more than three times faster than those on this JAL flight.

Did the China Airlines flight attendants receive three times the training as JALs, and did China Airlines spend three times as much as JAL on the training?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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