Egyptair MS804 – Some communications challenges

Barbara Kracht

Aircraft losses are extremely rare, yet they happen as Egyptair’s flight MS 804 regrettably confirms. Our first thoughts go to the families and relatives of those who have lost beloved ones in these tragic circumstances. 

Beyond that, a few observations after the initial day regarding Communications and the challenges for the affected carrier.

First, in today’s highly connected world with so many dedicated websites, any information related to the aircraft type and the airline are in the public domain and easily accessible to any journalist. Actually the mainstream media nowadays have in-house specialists whose role is to monitor all the websites and Twitter + Facebook accounts to dig out all the relevant information that earlier on would have been the airline & manufacturer’s property and taken quite a while to emerge. With this information readily available, including the latest incident statistics the carrier or the aircraft may have suffered, the airline is facing a new communication challenge to which it has to respond swiftly and professionally. 

Second, it is hard for an airline to get heard when the recovery activities are led by government bodies. In the MS 804 case, the wreckage had to be found, and this task is the responsibility of the official search & rescue bodies. In this instance, the Egyptian, Greek and also French authorities and members of government communicate a lot, and dwarf the airline’s attempt to communicate.

Third: there is an obvious difference between a privately owned carrier and a national flag-carrier with regards to the ability to communicate. In the latter case, the airline’s highest instance is the Ministry of Transportation or any other ministry by which the carrier is being overseen. For a government owned carrier, it is therefore most likely that the Ministry will communicate and also control – and may be even limit – what the affected airline will be able to say. This will make it even harder for the airline to make its word heard in the media, especially abroad, where it is aiming at gaining passengers.