In my recent talk at IATA’s Asia-Pacific Communicators’ conference in Singapore, I put the spotlight on some of the geo-diversity difficulties airlines often face during crises.
When an accident or major incident occurs, there is every likelihood it will happen outside your home territory. You may be well prepared for an event in your own country, but things work differently in other places and will catch you by surprise. Rules and procedures might be different to what you expect. This requires flexibility and adaptability while continuing to communicate.
A major challenge you would face, is to communicate – and continue communicating – during the first hours and days until your aircraft is found. This could be a protracted period, especially if it went missing in a remote and barely-accessible area on land or at sea. The world expects your airline to communicate, but you may have no more information other than what is already in the public domain. This is because during this initial phase, Search & Rescue teams are main sources of information..
As soon as they have something new, they communicate it directly, sometimes without even informing the airline concerned. When this happens, you are placed on the back foot and forced to play catch up. In some places, communication on an accident is led by the ministry or government department to which the SAR teams report. This can often overwhelm your airline’s best communication strategy and drown out your voice.
Similarly, government officials will inevitably “communicate” and even take the lead, especially if an air accident is considered to be a national tragedy. In such instances, the public expects to see and hear politicians intervening. This is particularly true for state-owned airlines where the carrier’s chairman is often the Transport Minister, who will feel obliged to be the face and voice of the airline, the government and the country.
To better manage these additional challenges, it is important to anticipate and plan for them in advance. This cannot be improvised.As part of your essential preparation and readiness for such scenarios you need to agree in “peace time” on protocols and procedures which will allow you to freely and extensively communicate, as is expected from your airline in such a crisis.
To better manage these additional challenges, it is important to anticipate and plan for them in advance. protocols and procedures which will allow you to freely and extensively communicate, as is expected from your airline in such a crisis.