From the moment the news broke that Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 involved a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, the future of the plane fell into question.
As the second deadly crash involving a 737 MAX 8 plane in the space of five months, red flags rose within the aviation industry and among the flying public around the world.
The global nature of Boeing’s business made it impossible for any single airline or country to effect a localised crisis communication plan. Until yesterday, Boeing was making a herculean effort to stem the rising tide of global opinion against its planes. Buoyed largely by the initial support of the United States Federal Aviation Administration and a handful of European countries, the manufacturer was hoping to ride out the groundswell of public panic. In the end, however, the globalisation of fear caused by two crashes in quick succession proved too much, resulting in the US grounding all 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes accompanied by Boeing’s withdrawal of all its 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes.
This point is to be emphasised in light of the statement issued on Tuesday by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, hours before the US and Boeing announced the grounding of the planes. In that statement, Minister Imbert accused this newspaper of resorting to “hysteria, distortion of facts and illogical reasoning” in a report published on Tuesday headlined “CAL’s plan to lease 12 jets causing panic”.
In a classic case of shooting the messenger, Minister Imbert condemned the report as “alarmist” and accused this newspaper of seeming to have “little concern for the safety of those passengers” who were travelling on 737 MAX aircraft which, according to him, our journalist had “already condemned as defective”.
Waxing to even higher levels of outrage, Minister Imbert charged the report with having “all the characteristics of fake news” since panicking passengers would not be travelling on those planes in and out of this country, presumably a reference to the American Airlines 737 MAX 8 fleet.
Minister Imbert’s statement has now been overtaken by the all-out grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 and 9 aircraft due largely to widespread public panic and anxiety, the very responses that the minister was so feverishly trying to deny.
We have no wish to rub salt in what may now be the minister’s wounded ego. But we would encourage him and his communication advisers to review their handling of this matter with a view to understanding how they could have become so disconnected from the public opinion that was so clear to this newspaper. We recommend the same to Caribbean Airlines (CAL). Both the Ministry of Finance and CAL expended much energy in telling the public that they were not feeling what in fact they were feeling and expressing.
Any observer who was paying attention to developments in the global airline industry since Sunday’s crash and following social media would have recognised the quickly approaching tipping point in this crisis.
In today’s borderless world of information it is a fool’s errand to think that T&T could be insulated from global information and influences.