The Death of an Airline
510 Passengers, 27 crew, 600 million worth of hardware and thousands of paying customers. That is what Malaysia Airlines have lost since March. In terms of losses for a single airline there is little that is comparable. Only 911 and the Tenerife disaster of 1977 can point to a greater loss (directly or indirectly) but in those instances it could be said that one airline did not bear the burden alone. In the case of 911, United and American Airlines both lost aircraft but that day had far reaching effects for airlines across the world and so the entire industry took a hit. In Tenerife, KLM and Pan Am were involved. It was two Jumbo jets playing chicken on a runway. KLM lives on but Pan Am is no more. I’ll touch on that one later but back to the airline in question.
When I wrote ‘How to Lose a Plane for Thirteen Days’ I couldn’t possibly have known they would find no trace of MH370 after this length of time. It has been almost five months and counting. I felt sure they would find the black box just as they did with Air France flight 447 but then searchers never had a clear starting point. It just doesn’t help when you are dealing with an ocean. I’ve no doubt the search team did everything they could and that is proof positive that Mother Nature can still trump technology. When you look at the incidents separately it is hard to see where Malaysian air has gone wrong. Yes there were communications issues as well as crew safety issues but it may eventually boil down to a grey area – let’s call it ‘pseudo terrorism’. Some will say an unstable pilot is a terrorist. Others will say he had lost the plot literally, mentally and figuratively. It does nothing for the families though.
When it comes to flight MH17. Again there is a sense that there is just enough complexity to make it hard to come to any black and white conclusions. It was a Russian made missile that much is certain, however it is very hard for the Ukrainians (as the main ground to air communicator for the area), the pro-Russian rebels (trigger happy hardware users) and the Russians themselves (the main player in that part of the world) to disassociate themselves and wriggle out of any wrong doing. But rather than pointing the finger which again does nothing for hundreds of Dutch and Malaysian families, it really is now about predicting the outcome for the stricken airline in question.
Pan Am is an early example of how an airline can change when it experiences an incident or three. After the fuel crisis of 1973, Pan Am had only just got themselves back to profitability when the Tenerife incident occured. When you add in the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 and another fuel shortage resulting from the Gulf War, is it any surprise they filed for bankruptcy in 1991? Pan Am were a globally recognisable airline and then they were gone – just like that.
So where to for the Malaysians? When you look at airlines that have a state or government subsidised backing, such as Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, Emirates or Aer Lingus you get a sense that even in times of trouble those respective governments would step in as they have done in the past. They would try to keep the brand afloat as it is so inherently entwined with each of those countries tourism sector. In the fairly competitive Asian Market it could be that longhaulers will now look to the likes of Singapore and Thai more than ever creating a bust in that sector for Malaysia. It would then be that Malaysia would be relying heavily on it’s own people to keep the company in profit. It’s been said that privatisation, domestic only services and rebranding may be Malaysia’s future. If that is the case then those Malaysians who have lost someone will quite literally need to keep the faith.
As a few-time longhaul passenger of Malysian airlines I can quite honestly say my experiences were pleasant, enjoyable, even in cattle class but I may hesitate when I book my next flight. I am due in New Zealand early next year and while I may not be ready to jump on a Malaysian flight, I do hope they find a way to stay in business.