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Integrated Crisis Planning: An analysis from the aviation industry

Bracknell, United Kingdom

Today’s business requires us all to engage diligently with various partners so we can provide a leading service to our clients and employees. A partnership will automatically create a need for planning integration. Now consider multiple partnerships such as:

  • Security
  • Public Relations
  • Office space
  • Codeshare
  • Travel agents/tour operators
  • Universities
  • Associations

  • The integration of crisis plans must be conducted when entering into a new partnership. The plans should consider the leadership, resourcing and coordination across both (or all parties). The following article will examine Aviation in order to illustrate integrated planning.

    Let’s start with something familiar. Take a mid-sized airport used by a variety of national and international carriers. Many of these airlines are serviced by a 3rd party ground handling agent due to cut-backs on route station staff. There is an AOC that meets routinely, business is reasonable for the time of year and the flower borders are well tended.

    Along comes a crisis. It doesn’t matter what type of crisis for the moment although I will return to this later. Importantly for now, this crisis affects or has the potential to affect the whole of the airport community. What direction the crisis now takes towards ‘business as usual’ will be determined by the actions taken in the first few hours. One of three things can happen:

    • (1) A well researched, well written and well practiced core contingency plan will be invoked by the lead agency (another subject to return to later), resulting in subsequent invocation of a family of plans across all agencies. Five years of contingency exercises, careful crisis-team selection and adequate training repays the investment – the crisis is contained quickly and recovery action begins.

    • (2) Little serious multi-agency contingency planning has been conducted. Decision-makers act without central direction. Any successes will be good fortune and fate will be the key factor in determining the level of recovery.

    • (3) Little serious multi-agency contingency planning has been conducted. Fortunately a particularly resourceful and charismatic leader from a back office comes to the fore, accepts the challenge readily, rallies the key decision makers into a central forum and leads from the front to secure a successful outcome (the news media love it).

    • You can of course scale down from the utopia of 1 above and create 1a, 1b, etc., with a lesser degree of planning sophistication before you reach the abyss of 2…3 is an impossibility!

    The first trick for aviation chief executives is to determine, with honesty the degree of preparedness of their company to withstand crisis; where on the scale of 1 to 2, do they belong? This evaluation is not difficult; there are many risk managers, consultants and even software applications that can assist and advise. However, the second trick, and the one that can only be performed at the highest level, is to what extent (resources + time = money) the company wishes to take remedial action to ascend the level 1 scale.

    Aviation is a very complex industry. The vast number of processes, companies and people that require to inter-relate to achieve a single on-time departure is staggering. This dependency among business partners is singularly critical to the success of the aviation system. All companies that are part of “the system” fully understand this criticality where business is concerned. Why then do so few aviation communities work together in crisis management? The following revelations are real and have emerged from casual observance, how close are you to some of these?

  • The airport authority will not share its crisis plans with the principal operating carriers.

  • The airport has a crisis centre, so does the main operating airline; neither has arranged for liaison staff during exercises or activations and there are no communication protocols.

  • The ground handling company has no emergency response plan and no manager with specific responsibility for emergency response.

  • There are no controls or checks in place to ensure that the carriers and other agencies have incorporated changes to airport contingency plans.

  • Station managers only attend AOCs in person when there is a crisis.

  • Where exercises have been conducted, little follow-up action has been taken and no report with suspense dates for replies has been produced.

  • The first time the station manager met the airport crisis manager was at the accident inquiry!

  • At this stage, the statisticians jump up and argue that aircraft accidents are rare occurrences. Of course they are but crises in aviation occur routinely and regularly. There are still terminal fires to contend with, computer disasters and earthquakes that destroy ATC capacity among the many and varied events that are sent to try the patience of any contingency planner. Crisis Management is all about managing the effects of a disaster to the extent that the company can continue to operate profitably in the future; a very simple statement and very difficult to implement in practice. One of the most significant steps that can help with contingency planning is to develop and rehearse all plans in full consultation with all of the other agencies that touch your own. Airlines exclude the airport planners at their peril. Equally, why isn’t the local police authority part of the airport crisis management team?

    Central to any integrated crisis plan for an aviation “community” is the airport. It is at the airport where most crises occur (to others). It is the airport that will be the first responder to any airfield emergency and that will represent an airline often for some time before the ‘go teams’ can arrive. It is the airport, therefore, that should take the lead to promote co-operation and routine dialogue between the business partners.

    While on the subject of leadership, this infers a leader, a physical person empowered to make crucial and often life-saving decisions and to convince others that his or her chosen course is the correct one. A crisis is a bad time to discover that the duty manager cannot influence others. Choose these people carefully; excellent ‘peace-time’ managers do not always make the best of themselves when their world turns upside-down at 0300 hrs and the ‘followers’ are waiting for direction. There are two further principles of crisis management that are also appropriate to leadership. Firstly, to enable informed decisions to be taken, leaders should surround themselves with experts - the best that can be mustered, nothing else is acceptable when handling a crisis. Secondly, pay special attention also to the ‘B team’, the crisis won’t take a rest just because the ‘day shift’ is taking a break.

    This article is targeted towards aviation however the concept of integrated planning is appropriate for all industries. When reviewing crisis management plans it is important to coordinate with your partners and define expectation. Share your plans, spot-check the resources, and coordinate information before an incident. This is easier to conduct now than during an incident!

    For more information about Kenyon’s training programs, please email This article was previously published in the July 2014 Kenyon Client Newsletter. For the most recent newsletter, click here.

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