What does the future hold for Malaysia Airlines?

It has been slandered as the world’s ‘unluckiest airline’, after facing two catastrophic incidents within the space of five months. So what happens to Malaysia Airlines now? Will they remain determined in rebuilding passenger trust, and consequently securing their future? Or will they have to except that there is no coming back from this, and declare bankruptcy?

MH370, remains undiscovered, and the destiny of what happened to the 239 on board continues to be clouded by an agonising wait for any sign of news. In addition to this, the MH17 tragedy has struck. And has caused the death of 298 innocent passengers and cabin crew, after it was shot out of the sky by a surface-to- air missile. Even as standalone incidents, both tragedies are rare, but for both disasters to have happened within such a short time scale and to the same airline, it is almost unprecedented.

Should Malaysia Airlines be help responsible?

When MH370 went missing, the airline was blamed for causing anguish in how it communicated with the victims loved ones. Nick Rines, chief executive of the Institute for Diplomacy and Business, provides some insight in to why this might have happened;

“The loss of the aircraft over the Ukraine and flight MH370 reflects directly on the host nation. What has happened with these two tragic situations highlights the lack of preparation for crisis management that may involve governments and popular opinion of entire nations.

The problem is that the Malaysian Government finds it hard to take ownership and manage the situation, and its diplomatic service does not universally have the capability to handle the task required. Hiring in commercial PR services is an option, but it is far from ideal because there is unlikely to be clear direction, and the communications chain would be fragmented. However, this is the best solution for both the government and the airline who should be seen to be working together.

For situations of this type consumer public relations and public affairs crisis management is not enough. They also need real and experienced diplomatic planning and skills that are linked to public relations crisis planning, whether hosted within government foreign service departments or through third parties.”

A second area of blame which has been pinned to the airline, is why was it flying over a conflict zone that other airlines had avoided?  This also suggests something about the airline’s risk management. Crisis management expert at A.C.E Consulting, Kuniyoshi Shirai, has said; ‘It is unthinkable from a risk management point of view that the plane was where it.’

However, whilst some airlines did change their route, most did not. Lufthansa, for instance had flown over that particular area 56 times in the week before the MH17 disaster,and Singapore had taken that particular route 75 times, where as Malaysia airlines had taken fewer routes, at 48 times. This has left room for the argument, that instead of pointing the blame on the airline – we should only look into the conflict which is happening on the ground.

How should the airline handle themselves in going forward? 

The airline must learn from the communication mistakes made when MH370 happened. In doing so, it should be certain that the discourse must remain clear, and emphatic.

PR agency boss, Miranda Leslau has told the Huffpost UK that the airline needs to ‘present a proactive face, one of utmost sympathy for lives lost and grieving families, to retain creditability and honour, both fundamental to the Asian cultural base. An airline will normally make a public announcement via a press conference of their safety track record and that everything is being done to make sure families and loved ones are updated regularly. The last time this happened, the facilities and communication levels were slightly shambolic, but part of that may be linked to cultural expectation.’

What options do Malaysia Airlines now have?

Malaysia Airline’s future was in the balance before MH370, it became even more unstable when the air craft went missing and now it has to cope with the crisis of MH17. Should the airline accept that it can not survive this?  It certainly hasn’t signalled that it is ready to accept it, it is instead showing signs of determination in shaking off its tarnished reputation.

In their most recent statement, the airline attempted to reach out to travel agents and passengers; ‘We are determined to rebuild trust in Malaysia Airlines as one of the best full-services carriers in the world and we appreciate the support of travel agencies, passengers and our valued employees.’

In the mean time, aviation experts from all over the world have weighed up the airlines options in going forward. Chris de Lavigne, an aviation expert from consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, has said; ‘Firstly they can continue as they are, and pour money after money into the airline, but I don’t think that is a viable, long term option. Secondly, I think they can look at doing something similar to Japan Airlines which is to put the business into bankruptcy and try it sort it out from there. A third option would be potentially breaking it up and privatising the airline.’

Other experts have envisioned a re-branding approach, as travel consultant Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research says – ‘Malaysia needs to bring in a new CEO and head of flight operations to restore employee and consumer trust in the airline.’

Whilst aviations experts, politicians and journalists from all over the world, will continue to weigh up what is going to happen, the ultimate decision will come down to the Malaysian government, who have pumped large amounts of money into keeping the airline going. Their high level of investment into the national airline, which was founded in 1946, is a good indication that it will not go down without a fight.

(Picture: Aero Icarus) 

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