Air Transport World

Managing through a crisis: when something bad happens, saying and doing the right thing are crucial.(OPERATIONS)

WHEN BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT 038 plowed into the ground at the edge of London Heathrow on Jan. 17, the airline's crisis management response team sprang into action minutes after the plane came to rest and the emergency chutes deployed. Fortunately, there were no fatalities and only one serious injury, but BA was fully prepared to respond regardless of the outcome.

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"When we are faced with a major incident, we have tried and tested procedures which are followed," BA spokesperson Richard Goodfellow tells ATW. While declining to discuss the company's crisis management plan in detail, he explains that "our plans are all aimed at gaining control of the incident itself and managing any resulting operational disruption."

"Gaining control" is critical. That means controlling the response effort, caring for injured, ensuring ongoing operations and providing accurate and timely information to all parties from beginning to end. Goodfellow says the first and most obvious priority was to "look after the well-being and welfare" of the passengers. "We set up a dedicated team immediately after the incident who [remained] in contact with all the passengers to understand their immediate needs."

BA had a home field advantage, as the accident occurred minutes away from corporate headquarters. The 777 was inbound from China, so interpreters were brought in to communicate with the non-English-speaking passengers. A few days after the incident, CEO Willie Walsh telephoned most of the passengers and then wrote to each of them individually. He even offered a 45-min. flight over London to help them overcome any fear of flying.

"BA followed the rules," says Robert Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International, a disaster management company. …

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