Automation and Technology Failures

The travel, aviation, transport, monitoring and service industries have all been evolving at a rapid rate in recent years but much of it has been around automation, increased use of technology and removing human costs, decision making or appearances of greater visual stimulus. When a ‘fault’ appears, there is often no human in the process to manage nor correct, merely a software patch, new code or expanded data set to be added. Systems that are fully automated or totally technology based are susceptible to these realities and many consumers have been unaware of this vulnerability, until now. More questions and accountability will be demanded.

A review of multiple information resources, systems and the like demonstrated this in full color.

A very popular travel and flight tracking app, available on smart phones still had the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 as ‘on route’ in its visual display and flight notification boards several hours after the incident, when clearly it was not. Consumers who had not seen the news certainly would not have been alerted to the tragedy if solely reliant upon this app.

An international authority on aviation and international airline transport had nothing at all on either the event, the flight or the airline. A lot of other ‘industry’ chatter and ‘news’ but nothing about what is happening right now, what happened, how we should react or means to better manage this risk.

The inflight graphics, videos and related flight path displays continued to show the flight continuation, long after it crashed. These are not real time systems or mechanisms with many just pre recorded videos that play on a timeline consistent with the flights scheduled time of departure and arrival. Many consumers are now starting to know the difference and it is likely a mandatory disclaimer or notice will be required on these systems in the near future.

Foreign Affairs/Consular Support

Numerous governments have joined in condemning the act and offering support, to then turn around and tell the entire country, “call a hotline”. They know your tax file number, where you were born, your passport was issued by them yet they don’t know who is/isn’t affected and want you to call in order to get the ball rolling.

Governments are not suited, structured nor for the most part aligned to help travellers with minor or major issues that affect their travellers abroad. This includes this incident.

Little-by-little, citizens are learning this the hard way. Businesses, you should already know this but if not, your faith was misplaced and you could be in at even greater risk because you failed to identify this known fact and provide a better, more appropriate solution.

Political Rhetoric

There has been a constant parade of political figures on all the media channels contributing their opinion and support for bringing to justice the perpetrators. They have vowed not to rest, serve justice and correct this wrong. Aren’t many of them the same ones that assured us that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 would never happen again on their watch? Where were they last week when the known threat was present or pushing via official channels to have airlines not fly the route or support a resolution between Russia and Ukraine?

A complete lack of comprehension is plainly visible when you see a politician declaring a full investigation and examination of the black box recording will be conducted, when YouTube already has videos depicting looting, trophy collections, rummaging through the wreckage and numerous other onlookers [including media] wandering through the crash site.

All of this has very little to do, nor will it impact, travel for business or leisure. The issues were there before, and they are still there. What we all need to watch for is a run of random control and over reactive response measures, such as demanding your mobile phone is charged and can turn on before boarding a flight.

Travel Health and Safety

If you can’t tick all these boxes, then you don’t have a “health and safety” system for travel, this includes duty of care.

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The Expert Explosion

How many opinions and experts have we all now seen on television, on the radio, online or numerous other information/news channels? The previous MH370 incident saw a small burst of random, newly anointed experts [some are experts, but in other unrelated fields] experts providing commentary and insights into the event but with little useful or accurate insight into “so what” or “what next”. In particular, what does this mean for travellers, travel managers, the airline industry or service providers.

There will be another, this time more sustained, commentary and ‘expert’ contributions campaign around the world. Little of it will have relevance to what will help travellers, managers or businesses do in the wake of such an event and how that relates to practical, achievable steps for non-government entities to handle this type of event and the travelling future.

With growing fragmentation in the news and media industry, most experts and available commentary is more likely to originate from those that the news producer has in their contact list, those that made a random, related comment sometime within the past 5 years about similar events, those with the nearest comprehensible knowledge in a related field or very simply those that perform the best in front of a camera or during interview. None of which makes for useful business decision making nor risk management strategy development or reform.

Information vs Intelligence

It is no secret that there has been mounting tensions and military operations in the area in which the flight was allegedly targeted. It is no secret that military hardware and tactics available within the area of conflict include surface to air capabilities. There is even prior incidents of aircraft being targeted and engaged during the conflict. All this is information, but the correlation that this could plausibly be used as a threat to commercial air movements, well within the capability of these military units and ordinance, is a question of acting upon this information, turning this process and recommendation into intelligence.

How many businesses have information resources? How many have intelligence resources? How many have both that work together and provide both practical recommendations or better understanding about the information that could then be used in a practical manner? This will be a question for all businesses and travellers, not just to obvious military conflict areas but for all travel in general. This has always been a requirement but it will likely get greater attention and subsequent action as a result of this incident.

Foreseeable Risk

This is a shared responsibility. Was the route considered a risk in light of the recent civil war and military operations that have been ongoing within the area? Was the airline, route or flight a higher or lower risk for travellers or businesses than other alternate options? Could the risk not only have been foreseen, but alternate mitigation or avoidance measures implemented?

These are all very basic questions that any reasonable person might assume but more and more those that provide travel, those that manage travel and those that undertake travel will need to apply this thought process time and time again before they undertake what could be an avoidable risk.

Travel Risk Management

If you can’t tick all these boxes, then you don’t have a “risk management” system for travel.

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Commercial Decision Making

Airlines are commercial entities, set up and operating to make money. While there are varied commitments and application to safety and security the commercial realities impact upon all decision making, including operations. At some point, regardless of the events on the ground or within the region, the option or decision to fly around or avoid this particular region of airspace would have been overshadowed by the associated costs to apply a proactive risk mitigation in the face of no historical evidence or guarantee of a negative event taking place. Therefore, it would be cheaper and more cost effective to retain the standard route, rather than substitute it for a higher cost route.

This is not the first time this has occurred, nor will it be the last but greater accountability and correlation between these commercial, in isolation decision will be raised by governments, investors and most certainly the travelling public.

International Travel

Just because you can book an international flight online in a matter of minutes doesn’t mean the provision of services is that cheap and easy. This remains a disconnect between travellers, travel/risk managers and service providers.

Before an airline can fly a particular route or service a particular destination, there is a myriad of time consuming, political, commercial and expensive measures that must be met. Provision of an aircraft, a trained crew, refueling capability, backend commercial support, integration with global services, flyover approvals, diplomatic agreements, national and sovereignty sensitivities, tarmac fees, operational synchronization, advertising to a commercial audience, continuous operational support, cost per kilometer efficiencies, and the list goes on and on. None of which consumers are aware of, nor care about, when they book the best price ticket online. All this only becomes apparent, of how much it all has to ‘work’ in order to complete the task, until it all goes horribly wrong.

Travellers, travel/risk managers will be forced to better understand all of these elements, not in the post-incident press release, but part of the shared risk and objective of enjoying incident free, international travel.

Global Village

Less-and-less people sit to watch the news exclusively. Less-and-less read the news online or in print yet millions know about the incident and have been communicating about the facts, theories, myths and sub plots since it occurred. There is significant noise surrounding this event but few who need to know about it haven’t missed the news, no matter the channel in which it flows.

Formal and informal channels are packed with content. Be wary of any and all information and the advice that flows, it may not be as professional or accurate as you might think, or tainted with subjective or emotional content. Very little is looking at the whole picture, with most representing their own narrow vertical of the event, expertise or interest.

This is how news and information now flows around the world with events like this. It is no longer social media, it is “personal and direct content” for publication and consumption.

Crisis Leadership and Management

Some of the very same people responsible for recent crisis leadership and management failures are in charge again. Don’t expect a better result than last time.

The most effective and best results have been as a result of prepared responses, implementation of prior plans, access to useful/effective networks and utility of all the resources at your disposal. This has been complemented by continued monitoring of the events and improvement of plans when opportunity or necessity presents.

Don’t forget, limit your actions to only those issues you need to respond to or service, don’t try to solve everyone’s problems or chase a strategic objective that is not your own or inconsistent with the immediacy of the issue/s.

Advice to Travellers

Be better informed, prepared and make decisions based on the best available information at the time. We don’t suggest you try and become a subject matter expert but at the very least broaden your understanding and management of what appears to be a fast and convenient service, international travel.

Look at the practical and sequential elements of your journey and everything you do along the way. Packing, commuting, airport, flying, arrival, etc. They all present risks, they all have options and they are all a result of your choices and preparation. Each and every one of these stages should have a broad or specific plan in the event of delay, disruption, injury, illness or worse.

Do not rely on your government to compensate for your own lack of preparedness or work miracles because it is important to you or you/your family are affected.

Think it through, consider the consequences, explore your options, have a plan and review and adjust as required. Not to mention, get support and advice if/when you need it.

Advice to Travel/Risk Managers

Did you include this in your risk register? Did you consider the impact of the localised conflict upon air movements and commercial flights? Did you have any/all of this information at your disposal when you booked/approved flights on this and related routes? Do you have a systematic and compliant process for this decision making process? You are required to, not only by your travelling personnel but also many legal jurisdictions.

There are multiple views, information sources, practical consideration and other influences required when it comes to travel risk management. If you can’t demonstrated any/all of these elements, regardless of what internal/external service provisions you think you might have, you have exposure.

If you were able to forecast this or a related event, have an effective methodology for applying it to every single traveller and journey, along with the ability to quickly and efficiently manage or coordinate an incident such as this, in a location not schedule as part of the itinerary then you most likely have an effective process and system. Be very cautious however of assuming that what worked here, will work in all the other possible situations or circumstances in which you, your business and travellers are exposed to risk.


The event is not just another news story. It is an event that has claimed human lives and has, will affect a great many people.

Our sympathies are with those affected and the families without loved ones as a result of this tragic event. We apologies if our analysis and observations cause distress for those affected but there are a great many things that can be learnt from this incident and our aim is to provide advice and information to those that are struggling to understand the situation or have been thrust into a world they know little about as result of this event. We also know that this will happen again, in another format, place or set of circumstances and wish to shine a light on how travellers, businesses, providers and governments can be better served addressing the threat and responding to these issues in the future.

Travel Safety Experts
Travel Safety Experts

Travel health, safety, security and risk management experts