When a crisis becomes a catastrophe:
Reflections on the Malaysia Airlines crises and implications for crisis management best practice
By Tim Johnson, Chief Operating Officer, Regester Larkin and Jacqueline Ratcliffe, Managing Consultant, Regester Larkin Asia Pacific
Copyright Regester Larkin 2014 All rights reserved.
It is every CEO’s worst fear: an event resulting in mass loss of life that becomes indelibly associated with your organisation. Malaysia Airlines experienced two such events in four months. The disappearance of flight MH370 on 8 March 2014 and shooting down of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 presented an unprecedented challenge to the organisation, pushing it into nationalisation. But these tragic
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This margin will, however, be eroded if the organisation is perceived to have responded ineffectively, or if it comes to light that the situation could have been better planned for or avoided. Malaysia Airlines had clearly ensured that lessons were learned following their response to the disappearance of MH370; however, in the days following the tragic downing of MH17, public discourse quickly centred on whether Malaysia Airlines (and other airlines) should be flying over warzones, and whether they were taking ill-advised risks in setting a route over Ukraine. Hugh Dunleavy, Commercial Director of the airline, hit back at these criticisms, noting that 400 other flights were flying through the same air corridor at that time and that Malaysia Airlines had been informed that it was safe to fly. He also called for improved sharing of military, intelligence and commercial information via international aviation bodies to ensure that all airlines have a common operating picture when they decide where they fly. Stakeholders received these arguments sympathetically, proving the ‘empathy margin’ often implicit in externally-driven crises. Despite their differences, there were many similarities in the response required by Malaysia Airlines. Both required engagement with multiple stakeholders, the mobilisation of significant resources, and a peoplefocused corporate response. The observations we make centre