On November 4th, a Rolls Royce engine on a Qantas A380 Airbus blew apart near Singapore. While there were no deaths or injuries there will likely be financial consequences to the three main players in this story: The Australian airline itself, Qantas; Airbus, the pan-European aerospace company; and Rolls Royce Group, plc the manufacturer of the Trent 900 engines.
There has been much press about the incident and the consequences would appear to be a direct function of how quickly the problem is diagnosed and resolved. Qantas and Rolls Royce are both busily inspecting and analyzing specifications, tolerances and operations that could affect performance.
Because Qantas has the most direct relationship with passengers, it has been the most visible and, seemingly, the most direct and quickest in taking action in this crisis. It has taken its fleet of six A380’s out of service at least temporarily and has made major efforts to redeploy aircraft around the world. Additionally it has provided its passengers with a multitude of assistance in order to avoid as much disruption as possible. Its website has detailed instructions to aid passengers.
Rolls Royce made a statement on November 4th and published it on its website.It stated that safety was its first priority and calmly explained that it has “well established processes to collect and understand information relating to the event and to determine suitable actions”. It then finished with a list several self-serving statements about how terrific the company is, the most recent expenditures on R&D, its revenues and its order book. Its November 8th statement advised that it was working closely with Airbus, and that the incident was unrelated to any of its other engines. While the statements exude a coolness and stiff upper lip mentality that Americans are not quite used to, they also reflect competence and a no-nonsense approach that should reflect well on the company, if it is able to determine and fix the problem in a matter of days.
Finally, turning to Airbus itself, the manufacturer of the A380, a search of its website uncovers nothing. There is a highlighted special report on the latest updates on the WTO Boeing-Airbus dispute but no reference to the Qantas incident. The Press Centre tab brings up many articles, all good, about Airbus. A search of its website does not uncover one mention of the incident.
Three different companies, three different types of response. And perhaps rightly so. Obviously, the closer to the consuming public the more urgent the need for a corporate public response. In the case of Qantas there are passengers who need to be immediately tended to. And potential customers need to be considered. One step down is Airbus whose customer base is the airlines themselves, a much smaller market in numbers. At the bottom rung is Rolls Royce whose customer base is tiny. The bottom line is that crisis communication has to be tailored to the complexity of the situation, a company’s responsibilities, and its stakeholders. Crisis communication is not one-size-fits-all. Less communication and more technical expertise and greater effort to solve the problem would have been far more preferable in the BP Gulf oil spill debacle.
Rolls must make good. Qantas can always buy different planes, although it might take awhile. Airbus could always buy different engines, although that could take awhile. Both Qantas and Airbus could suffer financially in the process but can always rebound. But Rolls will certainly suffer the most if it doesn’t fix the problem fast. Strange that it would be criticized for its lack of communication at a time when 100% of its energy appears to be devoted to fixing the problem, as reported by The Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Michaels, on November 9th. Crisis management is more than communication. If Rolls Royce makes a quick diagnosis and resolves all issues expeditiously, it should be praised for its efforts.