Monday, November 8, 2010

Qantas explosion communication

Qantas has just come through one of the toughest critical events in the airline's history. The airline has handled a mid-air explosion with professionalism, speed and sensitivity. One of Qantas' Airbus A380's four Rolls Royce engines failed in flight, not far from Singapore, on the way to Sydney. "I just heard this massive bang like a shotgun going off," a passenger said on Australia's Nine Network news. "Part of the skin had peeled off and you could see the foam underneath. Pieces of broken wire sticking out." The aircraft landed safely in Singapore and all 459 people on board were unhurt.

A strong message of incident control was delivered rapidly across the media about the escalating situation, first by the aircraft's Captain, and then by the CEO to qualify the facts. Qantas made sure the passengers got a chance to tell their story.

Qantas Captain, Richard Champion de Crespigny, was given accolades for his communication skills and the way in which he explained the incident on board. When the engine exploded he spoke to the passengers immediately. "I do apologise. I am sure you are aware we have a technical issue with our number two engine...I am sure you are aware we are not proceeding to Sydney at this stage...the aircraft is flying safely at this stage...thank you for your patience."

In fact part of the engine had come away and torn through the left wing. Indonesian media showed Facebook pictures of debris that had fallen from the aircraft onto an island. Qantas has grounded its fleet of A380s as safety regulators and investigators from Rolls Royce and Qantas carry out tests to determine the cause.

Alan Joyce, Qantas' proactive CEO, moved forward with the company's response. "This was a significant engine failure," he told a press conference. "We are not underestimating the significance of this issue."

Earlier this year, Alan Joyce told Business Review Weekly: "We have a fairly refined crisis management team and crisis management process, probably more so than many other companies. It’s what my predecessor, Geoff Dixon, calls the ‘constant shock syndrome’. We plan on a steady state and then we plan scenarios and risks around that.”

Qantas has never had a fatal accident and there have been no fatal accidents involving the A380.