Qantas sorts through Its Engine Issue

On Nov. 4, 2010, Qantas flight 32 from Singapore to Sydney returned to Singapore because of an engine problem.  Pictures of the problem engine made global news.  Anytime an airliner has pieces of its engine missing it is a major sotry.  Shortly after takeoff there was a bang then a fire on the flight.  Everyone was safe.  Modern aircraft are designed to be able to fly with the loss of one engine.  But the media, traditional and social, can get ahead of itself.  Some place reported a plane crash.  Qantas first statement noted: 

“Some media reports suggested the aircraft had crashed. These reports are incorrect. No Qantas aircraft has crashed.” http://www.qantas.com.au/regions/dyn/au/publicaffairs/details?ArticleID=2010/nov10/5029

The engines were built by Rolls-Royce, the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 to be more precise.  The focus quickly became Rolls-Royce and not Qantas.  Within days of the incident, Rolls-Royce lost over billion dollars in its market value (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/11/05/world/main7028196.shtml).   

For Qantas, two issues arose.  First, what about the other airplanes (the A380) in serve using these same engines?  Second, what about the customers affected by the engine problem.  Qantas grounded all A380 aircraft for inspections and quickly found three others with leaks.  As Qantas noted, “In accordance with its commitment to the highest safety standards, Qantas yesterday suspended scheduled A380 operations until sufficient information had been obtained about what occurred on the QF32 aircraft” http://www.qantas.com.au/regions/dyn/au/publicaffairs/details?ArticleID=2010/nov10/5029c.  Qantas reported it was addressing the engines and making sure they were safe to fly.  But this meant additional disruptions to its schedule.  At first, all you had were the customers on the Singapore-Sydney flight.  Qantas updated stakeholders about the originally stranded passengers:  “We are currently planning for an aircraft to depart for Singapore to bring passengers back to Sydney tomorrow morning. Passengers on QF32 are being accommodated in Singapore” http://www.qantas.com.au/regions/dyn/au/publicaffairs/details?ArticleID=2010/nov10/5029. The passengers were being taken care of and would get to Sydney. 

But the inspections meant more delays, especially for flights from Los Angeles, CA.  Qantas stated:  “All Qantas aircraft are being utilised to ensure minimal disruption to scheduled international services. Qantas has scheduled extra services from Los Angeles to ensure passengers affected by the suspension of A380 operations are returned to Australia as soon as possible.

The backlog of passengers in Los Angeles is expected to be cleared by last departure from Los Angeles on 8 November with all passengers accommodated on specially chartered relief flights and across scheduled services. A Special Assistance Team has been deployed to Los Angeles to assist.

Hotel accommodation, meals and international phone calls have been provided for passengers impacted by the A380 disruptions.

Qantas will provide compensation for customers who have experienced delays.

Regular updates will continue to be available on qantas.com” http://www.qantas.com.au/regions/dyn/au/publicaffairs/details?ArticleID=2010/nov10/5033.  Qantas was working hard to mover passengers to their desired destination and keeping all stakeholders informed about the process. 

If you ever seen the movie Rainman, you know that Qantas has never had a fatal crash.

Rolls-Royce is now a full part of the crisis.  Here is their statement:

“Trent 900 statement

Monday, 8 November 2010

Rolls-Royce has made progress in understanding the cause of the engine failure on the Trent 900 powered A380 Qantas flight QF32 on 4 November 2010. It is now clear this incident is specific to the Trent 900 engine.

As a result, a series of checks and inspections has been agreed with Airbus, with operators of the Trent 900 powered A380 and with the airworthiness authorities. These are being progressively completed which is allowing a resumption of operation of aircraft in full compliance with all safety standards. We are working in close cooperation with Airbus, our customers and the authorities, and as always safety remains our highest priority.

We can be certain that the separate Trent 1000 event which occurred in August 2010 on a test bed in Derby is unconnected. This incident happened during a development programme with an engine operating outside normal parameters. We understand the cause and a solution has been implemented.

The Trent 900 incident is the first of its kind to occur on a large civil Rolls-Royce engine since 1994. Since then Rolls-Royce has accumulated 142 million hours of flight on Trent and RB211 engines.

We will provide a further update with our interim management statement on 12 November 2010.”  http://www.rolls-royce.com/civil/news/2010/101108_trent_900_statement.jsp

Questions to Consider

1.  Why is instructing information so critical in this crisis?

2.  How would you evaluate Qantas response to the crisis?  Justify your evaluation using principles from crisis communication. 

3.  How would you evaluate Roll-Royce’s response to the crisis?  Justify your evaluation using principles from crisis communication. 

4.  Is it ethical for Qantas to immediately discuss the engine problem drawing Rolls-Royce into the crisis?  Why or why not?

5.  Why was Qantas’ use of justification warranted in this crisis?  Justification includes efforts to reduce perceptions of the seriousness of the crisis. 

6.  What future actions will Qantas need to take in order to put this crisis behind them and out of the minds of people looking to fly?

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One Response to Qantas sorts through Its Engine Issue

  1. ktwop says:

    The different communications strategies used by the players involved have varied greatly. Rolls Royce have said remarkably little and even their latest statement was baked into a Trading Report for investors. In such a report the objective is to reassure the audience so that share price holds up and doesn’t crash. The conclusions – in consequence – have to be tailored to these objectives. In this case the focus was on showing that while there will be some costs, profits for the year will not be hit too hard. Investors – and not passengers – were clearly the audience for this Rolls Royce communication and that is of some concern.

    The other players – the airlines, Airbus and the Regulators – have all issued communications according to their interests. In fact, the most detailed information about the accident has come from Airbus sources and not from Qantas or from Rolls Royce. But that is coincidental, since clearly Airbus is greatly concerned that the aircraft not be “unfairly” blamed. Other manufacturers of parts for the Trent 900 have also been quick to point out that “they are not at fault”. Yesterday SKF and Volvo Aero who are both sub-suppliers to Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines rushed to point out that the components they supply were not involved.
    But of course the relationship between the airlines and the manufacturers is a symbiotic one.
    I blogged on this a few days ago:
    http://ktwop.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/trent-900-easa-relaxed-its-directive-which-reduced-inspection-frequency/

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