Of Kenya Airports Authority and poor communications

Posted on August 6, 2013

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I had wanted to start off this post by defining what crisis communication is. Then I realised  I would be preaching to the already converted. 

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The point is Kenya Airports Authority has a problem. I do not want to imagine the magnitude of the problem, but like it is said today: my crystal ball is clear; there is a problem.

Monday August 5th 2013: Between 3pm and 4pm, several airlines are informed they cannot fuel due to low pressure. 

The result of such an event is that take off by these airlines is halted since they cannot refuel. Several passengers are stranded but reassured that in a matter of minutes all will be well.

Monday August 5th: At around 5.30pm, the problem persists, more airlines cannot refuel for both domestic and international flights. Distressed passengers raises concern.

The Kenyan athletes heading to Moscow on an Emirates flight are part of the stranded passengers. Some of them call their journalists friends to inform them of the delay. 

Same day: 06.30 pm; the situation at the airport is getting out of hand, several take offs are now delayed some running into two plus hours and the explanations to passengers borders on fuel pump issues.

Same day 7pm: Word start spreading that the problem could be associated with fuel shortage and efforts to find out the truth from concerned parties; namely: Kenya Airports Authority and Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) goes a notch higher.

Of grave concern at this particular time is that Kenya Airports Authority whose core mandate is to run Kenya’s airport is yet to issue a statement or an update of the ongoing.

Several calls to a number of airlines reveals a growing concern, that the airport which historically has a parking space issue is fast filling up and flights would be diverted to either Mombasa, Kisumu or neighbouring international airports. Of course this happens at a fee.

On a personal level I kept in touch with the operations manager and technical managers of Kenya Pipeline Company on the situation and how it was unfolding. Attempts to get KAA speak or even issue an update were to say the usual ‘unsuccessful’ 

The communications manager when reached on phone at initially at 7.45pm said he was unaware of the issue but promised to find out and get back. Whether he got back or not is a story for another post.

By 8.30 pm, airlines as well as passengers were now convinced the issue was going to get out of hand. Indeed the talk of ‘We call upon the authorities’ to sort this mess took center stage to those I spoke too.

Globally airports are classified as high risk areas. That explains the precision by which security issues are handled around airports. Therefore an issue that grounds airport operations for close to six hours however mundane it is must be dealt with seriously.

More so, if not just one airline, or two or three, but the entire fleets expected for take off then that is a crisis. I am no expert in crisis communication but those in the know will agree that this is the point you engage the gears.

Communications of this nature does not necessarily mean an update of to the media. The media is just a conveyor belt of the same. The public, stakeholders are the most important people to engage. KAA proved otherwise at this point. One can argue that may be the airlines were notified of this. Fine! But the public has a greater bearing on such. The need to know is far much important here. This cuts out on speculations of just what may be happening.

At 9 pm, the call from KPC came and the technical manager indicated the pressure had been restored and refueling was on. That was a relief. A big one to the passengers who had missed meeting, made alternative travel arrangements and dealt with all manner of inconveniences.

But more disappointing in an era where instant and cheap information sharing through social media is available is that KAA twitter account did not go the extra mile.

From my recollection, their last twitter update was on something akin to wireless internet availability at JKIA. That was some seven hours ago. Approximately the time the fuel pump pressure issue started.

Social media, those in the know will confirm is a great tool of communication for both individuals and corporate. It is however beats the purpose to be in it if you cannot communicate effectively with it.

I can go on and on.. but the bottom line is the Kenya Airports Authority could have done better.

I may be biased,

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