Monday, May 5, 2008

Kenya Airways Safety Queries.

Kenya Airways management is unhappy with recent newspaper reports of increase in safety incidents for its fleet during the first three months of the year. The airline however concedes that the data quoted in the reports was actually extracted from its own leaked safety documents. It seems therefore that the management is unhappy that this information has been made public, not that it has many safety issues.

This comes hot on the heels of reports that a KQ plane overshot the runway at Entebbe just last week. And a few weeks after the remains of Kenyan crew and passengers from last years crash in Cameroon were returned to Nairobi. Coupled with last week’s failure of landing lights at the Moi Airport, which is now a regular mishap, one may understand their unhappiness. As they put it in a newspaper advert, the media was creating ‘panic and fear’ amongst its passengers.

In an effort to allay these, CEO Titus Naikuni held a press conference on Sunday at which he sought to downplay the reported incidents as insignificant. That although there were 135 incidents as reported, they should have been put in the “correct context” as per the “measuring indices for airline incident reporting”. According to KQ these are not just 135 incidents. They are 135 incidents out of 7396 sectors flown. So what bwana Naikuni?! At what level do the numbers become significant to cause real ‘panic and fear’? 1000 over 7396? 2000 over 7396? 50%? What?

And he downplays them further saying that only three of these incidents were “hazardous” using their internal risk assessment. While these were rectified, the other 132 were… what… just noted? Which safety standards are these that have such tolerance for mishaps? The insignificant cases included;

  • Unruly passenger behavior – which could be a distraction for cabin staff/passengers before a terrorist take-over…
  • Communication problems with some flight information regions – if this is not “hazardous”, what is?
  • Bird strikes – which have been known to disable plane engines?
  • Technical issues – which ones? Failed pilot instruments for example?

None of these are minor issues or insignificant. In matters of safety, even one incident alone should be significant enough to warrant full attention by top management and to instigate mitigating action. Air disasters do not just happen. They are the culmination of a chain of events that start with ‘just a minor incident’.

KQ can only classify its safety reports as top company secret to its detriment. An increasingly informed public will not hesitate to make carrier options if they perceive that KQ’s safety management is cavalier. If indeed it is committed to aviation safety as it says it is, it should be encouraging the traveling public to participate in the ‘aggressive reporting culture’ it allegedly has in place. Not engaging in defensive posturing against supposedly ‘malicious media’ advocating the ‘interests of competitor airlines’.

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