Friday, 8 June 2012
Disaster strategy set to take-off for Air France
A top European risk manager stressed at a conference in Paris last month the need for large companies to have robust crisis management plans in place in order to react quickly and efficiently when a catastrophe hits. Speaking at the annual Rendez-Vous de l’Assurance Transports in Paris, the Chief Risk Officer of Air France, Jean-François Wibaux, explained in detail the complex structures that are needed for leading airlines to respond to a catastrophic crash.
Three years ago Air France suffered its worst ever accident when an Airbus A330 flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed in the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew-members.
In order to manage the consequences of the tragedy Air France deployed a comprehensive crisis management plan that included the use of thousands of volunteers and dedicated response units in the 34 countries in which the victims lived.
According to Mr Wibaux the system was designed well in advance of the accident and was geared around a quick response.
Air France had in place local emergency plans around the world that drew on legislation adopted by the US for dealing with crashes.
When the whole system was triggered by the firm’s central command operations (CCO) a frantic effort took place in the two weeks following the accident to implement measures to deal with its immediate effects, such as providing support to the victims’ families.
Emergency measures were deployed in coordination with local authorities, to whom Air France provided information such as a list of passengers and other key data.
The company also took care of logistical steps to help transport and accommodate relatives of the victims.
Risk management activities were commanded from Air France’s HQ in France, but they were devised with the goal of guaranteeing that procedures were in place in other countries.
“We have, in our organisation, a person who is permanently responsible for the logistics of a crisis and who has the mission to establish and implement procedures in all the branches of Air France,” Mr Wibaux explained.
The holder of this job is also responsible for training the people to be deployed during a crisis as well as an army of over 4,000 volunteers who make themselves available to help in case of an emergency.
Local staff in foreign units where an event occurs are empowered to immediately take decisions such as contacting the authorities, making hotel reservations for people affected by disruptions, liaising with hospitals and medical clinics, hiring psychologists and other professionals to help the victims and contacting the media if necessary. At the same time the firm’s CCO is called into action.
During the most serious incidents, like the crash in 2009, the CCO mobilises the company’s Crisis Cell, headed by a Director of Crisis. This director is empowered by the CEO to make any decisions required during an emergency, Mr Wibaux pointed out.
Once the initial impact of the crisis is dealt with the company appoints another crisis director who will take care of any procedures that last for a longer period, such as the management of compensation and the provision of assistance to families.
This last step can take between two to four years, during which period the firm works closely with its insurance companies.
In conclusion Mr Wibaux stressed the need for an airline company to react quickly, efficiently and in a sustained manner when a catastrophe strikes. “The media put Air France under strong pressure,” he said, referring to the 2009 crash. “For many months news was published about the accident.”