Air safety, public relations, Ryanair and Air Canada Jazz

Jazz CRJ200.jpg

After a few quiet months air safety is suddenly smack-bang back on the news agenda. The Spanair crash in Madrid and the 737 loss in Kyrgyzstan over the weekend have seen that. And so it’s hard luck on Ryanair to have a depressurisation a couple of days later, and make-your-own-luck for Air Canada Jazz for going public with plans to take lifejackets out of some aircraft. Expect more of this for a while anyway.

Ryanair first: the facts are that there was a depressurisation for so-far unknown reasons, the crew dealt with it by the book, the crew may have have done a less than ideal job of communicating with the passengers. Certainly explorer Pen Hadow thinks so. He was on board and subsequently ended up on the BBC’s primetime radio show being very rude about it all. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, who has the benefit of a shiny new head of communications to advise him, also turned up trying to explain matters. Between him and host Ed Stourton unfortunately we ended up with more heat than light, and not because of MOL on this occasion

The key point was the communications with passengers. This point is sadly lost on a fair few of the pilot contributors discussing it all on Pprune. I don’t think most pilots share their views, but there are some embarrassments to any profession (mine obviously included.) Of course passengers are frightened by depressurisations, and the less knowledgeable they are the more they are frightened. It’s the crew’s job to assuage their fears by telling them what’s going on, or what has just gone on.

I’d be (a bit) frightened – mainly because there are several instances on record when pilots have mishandled depressurisations and the consequences have been extremely unhappy – up to and including mass fatalities!

Even Ryanair have a less than perfect record on that, and their friends down the road at Aer Lingus.

As for Air Canada Jazz. Well it seems they’ve decided to take advantage of a rule that lets them dispense with passenger lifejackets within 50nm of land provided they have flotation devices on board (ie buoyant seat cusions.) It will allegedly save them 25kg per aircraft. I hope the dollars are worth the grief. (I love the comment about coin-operated emergency oxygen…)

Actually I sympathise with Jazz’s thinking – lifejackets are pretty pointless on numerous route networks these days, and if you’re going to go into Canadian waters for much of the year they’re even less use. But  I don’t think you’ll see any other airlines lining up to follow the example of the brave folks at Jazz.

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