Bulletin / What can we...

What can we learn from Flight MH17

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie is back in the office this week and discusses the ill-fated Flight MH17.

Looking at the pictures of the immediate aftermath of Flight MH17 was quite a shock to the system.

Smouldering wreckage intermingled with the strewn personal possessions of those who died in the crash was uncomfortable to watch, particularly as the site was being ‘guarded’ by armed men with covered faces.

Since the initial crash the crisis has moved on, with most of the bodies being handed to the Dutch Government for identification.

The site has not yet been secured so the crash investigation has not been started. 

This means there may be bodies still in and around the site. 

It must be horrific for the families of the dead to have to go through this ordeal.

Our thoughts go out to them.

Here are my thoughts on the crisis:

  1.  Airlines and those who regulate national airlines make a risk assessment on whether airlines should fly over war zones. Flights regularly fly over Afghanistan and Iraq. In this case it was decided that if planes flew over 10,000 metres they would be safe. The risk was felt to be from small arms fire and shoulder held anti-aircraft missiles, both of which have a fairly short range. Medium to long range anti-aircraft missiles were not thought to be a threat as they are owned by national governments and not usually available to non-government forces. As often happens the assumption was wrong and the consequences were tragic. In your business continuity plans, what assumptions have you made and in light of this incident will you be revisiting them?
  2.  The plans for investigating air crashes are tried and tested. National and international air investigation personnel are well versed in getting to a crash site as soon as possible and carrying out the investigation. The longer they take to get to the site the more likely that evidence will be lost. As I write this bulletin, two weeks after the event, the Dutch air investigation team had not yet got access to the site due to the continuing fighting in the area. If you operate across a number of different countries, do your plans take into account the difficulties of implementing the plan? There will be differences in culture, laws, ways of working and the different qualities of the local emergency services. Even if you operate in only one country you may have staff travelling in another country and they may be involved in an incident there.
  3.  Malaysia Airlines is owned by the country’s government. After the tragic loss of flights MH370 and MH17 they offered all passengers, even if they had non refundable tickets, a refund on their flights. The deadline for the refunds has passed and the airline is not saying how many people have taken up the offer. There is some debate as to whether the airline will survive or if its reputation is damaged beyond repair. This decision will be up to the Malaysian Government. Pan Am, the US airline, failed not long after the Lockerbie crash. Although the airline cannot be directly blamed for the two losses of aircraft its future is in doubt. Sometimes just having two events can be devastating to the organisation even if they are seen to handle the incident well. Are there incidents you can foresee which could cause the end of your organisation if it occurred once or twice?
  4.  I noticed on Tuesday the following headline: “MAS flight MH136 stops takeoff to avoid crashing into jet”. This may have not been a story if the airline had not had two other crashes over the last few months. If your organisation has suffered major incidents then it will come under increased scrutiny. How can your organisation change to make sure that it doesn’t have another incident which puts it in the headlines? Do your plans take this into account so you can try and identify early and, if possible “head off’ or neutralise in the media, any events which could again lead to negative publicity.

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