THE BLOG
12/31/2014 06:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 02, 2015

What Malaysian-based Airlines Should Do to Respond to the Third Air Disaster in a Year

Airlines based in Malaysia are having a disastrous year. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 mysteriously disappeared in early March of 2014. What happened to that flight is still a mystery since no wreckage has been found. Four months later, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile as it cruised above 30,000 feet -- an unprecedented event in modern civil aviation history. On Sunday, Air Asia flight 8501 vanished from radar screens as it headed to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia.

Image of air travel

Even though flying is the safest form of travel, the flying public is rattled by these disasters. It reminds people that they are really out of control when they are flying in a plane. Airline disasters are big news, and no matter what the underlying causes, they will affect the airlines that passengers choose when they fly. Any negative association with a brand name will affect business -- at least for a while

Image damage from the first disaster

Malaysia Airline's image suffered greatly from its mishandling of the first disaster. According to the Washington Post, "The carrier acknowledged publicly that it saw 'a major short-term reaction in consumer behavior' and 'observed high cancellation of existing bookings and reduction in long-haul bookings in favor of short-haul bookings' after Flight MH 370's disappearance."

More damage from the second

Even though Malaysia Airlines was not responsible for the rocket that took down its Flight MH 17 in July, some blamed Malaysia Airlines for flying through a war zone to save fuel and time. They point out that many U.S. and European airlines avoided the eastern Ukraine ever since the International Civil Aviation Organization warned them of the potential dangers related to the conflict there.

The third disaster involving a Malaysia-based airline in 9 months

Is it bad luck? Some issue related to pilot training or experience? Did air traffic control's denial of the pilot's request to change course play a part? Did the budget airline's financial difficulties contribute to this disaster? These are the questions people are asking in the wake of this third disaster within 9 months involving an air carrier based in Malaysia. According to the New York Times, the pilot and co-pilot of Flight 8501 had 6,100 and 2,275 hours of flying experience respectively. By comparison, the pilot of MH370 had over 18,000 hours of experience. The Air Asia pilot requested permission to fly higher because of thunderstorms, but was denied by air traffic control because of traffic. At this point, nobody knows the cause of this latest disaster, but these and many other questions linger.

Image of airlines based in Malaysia

Whatever the cause of the problem, three major disasters in one year is bound to hurt the image of Malaysia-based airlines. Right or wrong, this is going to have a negative impact on the image of airlines based in Malaysia.

What Malaysian-based Airlines should do to mitigate the image damage

While it will take some time to rebuild its image, Malaysia-based airlines should do the following:

  • Focus on the families of the passengers and the flying public. Any business is going to have difficulties from time to time, but the way it handles them is what most affects the attitudes and decisions of its target audience.
  • Limit the scope. While it will be difficult, Malaysia-based airlines should focus on their safety record prior to the past 9 months.
  • Propose a solution so it is unlikely to happen again. Even before the cause is determined, Malaysia should adopt stricter safety standards for the maintenance of aircraft, the training and experience of pilots and air traffic controllers, and give pilots more leeway to change course as a result of severe weather. Most importantly, it should communicate these efforts to the flying public.

Even if current safety standards are being met, the key issue of concern to Malaysia-based airlines should be the perception of the flying public. Like it or not, there is an image problem that cries out for a solution.