Addressing threats to flight is a constant challenge for airlines. In January 2022, Verizon and AT&T’s 5G c-band spectrum rollouts halted flights as fears rose over 5G’s interference with altimeters, the instrument used to measure a plane’s height above the earth. In a statement penned by CEOs of multiple major airlines, the cell providers were warned of an impending catastrophic aviation crisis if the rollouts continued.
Threats to flight are generally clear-cut — natural disasters, mechanical malfunctions, or hijackers — but the A4A’s request to stop rollouts is a reminder that new threats emerge in aerospace, as they do in any other industry. And as threats emerge, we need adequate systems and mechanisms to help prepare for and respond to them.
Aviation disasters can cost airlines millions of dollars and create irreversible reputational damage while also threatening the life of every single passenger. An airline’s direct cost of a crash averages around $9.1 million, with indirect compensation costs rising even higher if the airline is found at fault for a crash. Thus, airlines must be fully prepared to deal with any emergency and mitigate further calamities when disaster strikes. Additional costs and damages will be significantly reduced when airlines invest in comprehensive emergency management.
Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act
In an aviation accident, an airline must evaluate a crisis and determine the cause and impact while at the same time communicating with the passengers’ families. This is a complex series of workflows. Emergency response and disaster relief plans incorporating automation, connection, and management create a more efficient communication network. Under the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, airlines are required to:
• Provide a toll-free telephone line for victims’ families.
• Inform families of the death of family members.
• Help families travel to the accident. location and provide them room and board
• List all passengers on the flight and tell families before publicizing the list.
This is an incredibly fractured process if the right communication, data management, tracking system, and response plan are not in place.
Elements of Emergency Management
One of the most crucial elements of emergency management is the need for effective internal and external communication networks. Airlines and their employees should be able to access critical data without undue delay or administrative friction. A significant issue facing airlines’ emergency preparedness is a lack of coordination between airlines, airports, and personnel. Airlines must be able to disseminate information efficiently in any situation. Far too often, the airlines and their crews face barriers to effective communication, with information or correspondence failing to reach key stakeholders in a timely fashion. With so many lines of communication that appear in response to a crisis, antiquated systems can lead to errors and wasted time. Airlines need to respond to a disaster without taking time to bridge data boundaries and communication gaps while simultaneously reacting to an emergency. With the proper emergency management, these detrimental communication gaps will no longer hinder operations.
The foundation of excellent emergency preparedness is situational awareness. Airlines can easily keep pace with current activities while automating event management 24/7 when deploying emergency management plans. There is often a lack of critical information provided to key players when disaster strikes. If safety managers do not understand precisely what to do, they will inevitably have difficulty managing the crisis. No airline member should be left out of the loop, and the entirety of an organization must receive the appropriate level of information in a timely fashion.
Airlines also need to adequately train their employees in crisis management to have a comprehensive emergency management system. An airline must be able to act swiftly and effectively from the ground up. All employees must be trained in emergency response, from operations to passenger service agents. This will ensure that response efforts holistically reflect the airline’s commitment to safety while also empowering every team member to serve a purpose effectively.
Emergency preparedness mechanisms will provide tracking for passengers and crews that will significantly help abide by the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act. With the proper data management and visibility in place, airlines can quickly organize while informing the necessary parties. Tracking elements will provide all the information on passengers and crew involved in a crisis, denoting any specific aid required during an incident.
Inevitably, having adequate emergency preparedness will also reduce business costs. Emergency preparedness plans can help cut costs by reducing duplication of efforts and consolidating work. By implementing collaborative operations systems, havoc can be captured, reshaped, and redirected to make work more productive.
Fly High with Situational Awareness
While emergency preparedness and response platforms require investment, they provide an incredible level of security and value for both airlines and their passengers. An airline’s reputation will hinge on its preparedness and response in an industry where a crisis lurks in the shadows. An emergency management system is the difference between being credited for handling a bad situation well or being blamed for an avoidable disaster.
Brad Pond serves as vice president of the transportation vertical at Juvare. He is a 21-year veteran of the WebEOC adventure. A former U. S. Navy submariner, Pond earned his BS in computer science from Limestone College and his MBA from The Citadel. Juvare is a worldwide leader in emergency preparedness and critical incident management and response technology. Juvare solutions empower corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, healthcare facilities, and volunteer organizations to leverage real-time data to manage incidents faster and more efficiently, protecting people, property, and brands.