Even as the search for MH 370 continues, what has occurred the last several weeks provides to airlines and their insurers a number of lessons which are not to be ignored.

  • If you have an accident or incident in a foreign country, you are at the mercy of the foreign government and their accident investigation procedures.
  • Geo-political and cultural issues may rise to the surface and actually hinder the investigation.  Think about them before there’s a problem.
  • Don’t wait until the problem has occurred to find out what you’re up against.  Prepare now by having all of the accident investigation procedures for every country into which you operate at your fingertips.
  • If you’re a US airline, remember, it’s not an NTSB investigation.  The United States, thru the NTSB, is nothing more than an accredited representative and you, as an airline, are a technical adviser to the NTSB. If the foreign accident investigation authorities choose not to rely on or include the NTSB, there’s very little you can do about it.
  • Foreign governments may not, be as effective as the NTSB at briefing families, so make sure you have a fall-back communications plan to get your message out.
  • If you’re going to rely on outside consultants, whether in the area of family assistance, public relations, legal or otherwise, make sure they’re qualified and that they have actually handled airline disasters before.  You should not be providing on the job training to so-called experts.

Remember, the US Department of State has a whole set of procedures for dealing with crises abroad like aircraft accidents.  Make sure you have a copy of them and, if you haven’t done so, make sure you understand what the capabilities of State are to help you.

MH370 is a wake up call to all airlines.  Two years ago, the 2012 Airline Symposium was entitled “An Airplane Is Down…..In A Foreign Country” Since then Asiana lost an airplane in SFO and got fined $500K by the Department of Transportation and MH 370 has gone missing, has presumably crashed and Malaysia Airlines is finding themselves under attack from all directions, frequently over things over which they have no control or input.

Now is the time for all airlines and insurers to step back and learn from what is happening out there.

(Originally posted April 4, 2014)