Title page for ETD etd-06232008-093628

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Dahman, Tariq Yahya Mohamad
Email qaiss1977@hotmail.com
URN etd-06232008-093628
Document Title Communication strategies in times of crisis : a case study analysis in the airline industry
Degree MCom (Communication Management)
Department Economic and Management Sciences
Advisor Name Title
Ms E de Beer
  • crisis management
  • communication management
  • communication strategies
  • airline industry
Date 2008-04-11
Availability unrestricted
This research was conducted to analyse the crisis communication strategy used by Helios Airways after its Flight CY522 crash on 14 August 2005.

The objective of the study was:

• to examine the communication strategies Helios Airways chose and implemented in order to satisfy the enquiries of stakeholders who had different interests during the crisis.

The pre-crisis background of Helios Airways; events related to the crash of Flight CY522, Boeing 737; and events after the crash were discussed. Owing to this, the single case study research approach was followed in conducting this study.

Seven main issues emerge from the analysis of the data obtained.

• the issue of the safety culture of the airline as discussed by the investigators of the crash;

• the issue of compensation and handling of victims’ families;

• the issue of the pressurisation defect of the aircraft identified the day before its flight which was not fixed;

• the issue of the failure of the Boeing aircraft manufacturer to separate the signal which indicates take-off problems from that of pressurisation problems;

• the issue of the government of Cyprus suspending flights after the crash;

• the issue of the government of Cyprus Civil Aviation Authority granting a name change for Helios Airways to Ajet; and

• the issue of the European Aviation Safety Agency in banning flights of Helios Airways.

Denying responsibility, hedging responsibility, making amends, ingratiation and eliciting sympathy strategies were discussed inline with the crash of Helios Airways Flight CY522.

Due to the pressurisation defect of the aircraft identified the day before its flight on the 14 August 2005, which was not fixed, the safety culture of the Airline had been perceived by the Cypriot public as low. This together with the delay of the compensation of the victims’ families and the confusing communication strategies, resulted in a negative public image of the Airline. The public insisted on the government of Cyprus banning the flight routes of Helios Airways. Due to those issues, Helios Airways was obliged to change its name to Ajet. However, even after the name change, the public did not accept Helios Airways as an airline of choice. Instead, they continued defaming Ajet in different media. Finally, Ajet ceased all operations and filed for bankruptcy.

The major finding of this study is that Helios Airways did not have a crisis communication plan prepared in advance, and as a result, Helios Airways failed to communicate with its stakeholders, mainly the victims’ families and the media, by implementing a mix of inaccurate strategies without knowing exactly those stakeholders’ impact and degrees of involvement. There was no accurate correlation between the investigation progress and results, and the strategies. This can be substantiated from the niche width theory, which explains specialist airlines, as in Helios Airways, tend not to have crisis communication plans prepared in advance and as a result, lack consistency in messages.

The general public, the civil aviation authority, and the government perceived the crash to have resulted from the failure of the Airways to fix the pressurisation problems that was identified the day before the crash. This clearly indicates the weakness of the communication strategies and the communication department of the Airways in identifying the perception of the public, and the media and their involvement, and then to align its strategies with the actual circumstances.

© University of Pretoria 2008

E945 /ag

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