Kenya Airways Flight KQ117 – A peek behind the scenes


Early last week, KQ117 departed Amsterdam as scheduled. It was A Boeing 777-200 with 301 passengers onboard. 2 hours into the flight (1.25am EA time), the pilot was alerted by a smoke alarm in the cargo hold. In such situations, the procedure is already defined as roughly:


Figure i Well….not really, but you get the pictu

1. Deploy the fire suppressant system within the aircraft.
2. Declare an emergency and land at the nearest airport with emergency services that can handle your aircraft
3. Land the aircraft and evacuate the aircraft as quickly as possible.
4. Visually inspect the aircraft to determine the extent of damage (if any) and report findings to the Integrated Operations Control Center back in JKIA.
5. Captain then co-ordinates care of the passengers if a station manager is not available at the scene to take control.
6. Everyone bounces to a hotel, a licensed engineer (from the nearest available station) flies in to make the repairs on the aircraft, the repairs are certified by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authorities, the aircraft manufacturers and the Local civilian aviation authorities. Only then, can the aircraft be released for service.

Now, aviation is a pretty tricky business. You’re only making money when the aircraft is flying. When you have an AOG (Aircraft on Ground) situation, a whole lot of people start sweating. Why? Well,

Burning cash
Burning cash

ii Would you like your cash flame grilled or broiled sir?

You know how most religions have a holy text? Well, airlines have one too. Their schedule. The schedule runs all the operations of an airline. Maintenance of aircraft, opening of new routes, recruitment and placement of staff, basically the airline’s operation is based around the schedule.

When an Aircraft has non-scheduled ground time, you have a whole lot of issues crop up:
-> Because the aircraft is scheduled to do other flights, you start to have cancellations and downgrades of equipment (move passengers to smaller aircraft) to try and compensate for the disrupted flight.
-> Costs shoot up as the airline incurs hotel and airport fees as well as repair costs
-> Crew disruptions – This is by far the most problematic. You see, crews are licensed per aircraft type. SO you have a limited number of crew available per aircraft. Depending on the routing, you may require a set of crew on the other end of the flight..
And that’s just for starters. But let’s get back to KQ117. The biggest issue it would seem was the lack of clear communication on what exactly was going on the ground.

I’ll tell you this, the airline has never before quite found itself in such a situation before where two versions of the same event are being reported in real time. There was the information coming from crew and contracted ground staff on one hand, and live tweets from a section of the affected passengers. Decisions were made based on incomplete information resulting in passengers stranded in a lounge without food, blankets and other basic amenities. Eventually, this was rectified, but by then, the damage to the airline’s image had already been done.

crash and burn
Crash and burn

iii Oh look! Our inflated sense of right is experiencing a “Oh the humanity” moment

There were quite a few learning’s from this whole episode. A social media strategy and team are in the process of being implemented…and the airline has a new appreciation for having a voice when conversations about your brand come up.

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