22 NOVEMBER 2010

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Article from BTNews 22 NOVEMBER 2010

COMMENT: Dammed if you do. Dammed if you don't

Rolls-Royce has come in for some harsh criticism following the serious engine fire on a Qantas Airbus A380 on 4 November.  Not for its engineering but on the way it handled the situation PR wise. 

There are those who say that the company should have been more forthcoming with statements and providing spokesmen, and then others whose view is that Rolls acted correctly. 

Of course in retrospect it is very easy to make comments but there are two major aviation events in recent history that show how it should be done, and how it should not.

When a Boeing 737 came down at Kegworth on 8 January 1989 Michael Bishop, the then Managing Director of British Midland Airways, was straight away on the scene, and was ready to face the media.  He could not change the events but the press, for the most part, were sympathetic.  They knew the event was hurting him too.

Just a few weeks earlier Pan Am 101 had crashed at Lockerbie.  It was not the fault of the airline.  The Pan Am senior executives literally locked themselves away in their headquarters building near New York Grand Central Station.  They failed to gain journalistic compassion.

In retrospect it does seem that Roll-Royce, rather like Pan Am, has preferred to say very little.  A very brief statement was issued within 24 hours of the incident and another four days later.  Their argument of course was that the facts were not to hand.  Better to say nothing than utter words that might prove meaningless as details emerged. 

On balance, in our view, they were wrong. 

Whilst it is true that the outgoing Chief Executive Sir John Rose, a banker by training, is not as media savvy as his predecessor Sir Ralph Robins, but with 25 years experience at the Derby-based company it would seem that he should be well equipped to have dealt with a formal press conference. 

It is all a question of confidence, for the travelling public, for airline customers, and also vital for the City.  Rolls-Royce is a great British engineering company that has proved over recent decades that this island can still be top of the tree when it comes to manufacturing excellence.

It needs to tread very carefully over the next few weeks. 

Sir John is due to retire in March 2011.  We would wish him to do so under a bright star and not a dark cloud.

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