When the time of crisis comes and the worst happens, nobody wants to be in their shoes. But it is their job to rise to the occasion and respond in emergency situations as quickly and efficiently as possible. AeroTime has talked with Susanna Halonen-Manner, the Vice President Emergency Response in Norwegian Group Airlines since 2015, on the role of leadership, organizational expertise, and the hard facts of crisis communication. 

What do you describe as an “emergency situation”?

We define emergency quite strictly, how the International Civil Aviation Organization defines an accident (loss of life, serious injuries or aircraft severely damaged). And then on top of that element, we also recognize that there are other events other than an aircraft accident.

It could be a security situation ‒ a threat to aviation security, hijack or sabotage, an unlawful act.  Furthermore, in case of pandemics, diseases that become global, plans should also be implemented; also if you have natural disasters (volcano disruption in Iceland is a very good example). Financial crisis, IT problems - it is also part of disruptions, but more commercial.

In crisis, you have mentioned the critical first hour. I am under the impression that it is all about communication.

It is. It is about establishing leadership, about taking charge of your event. Because with social media, nowadays information goes very quickly and you need to be present, you need to present the facts. So, you have to get your organization notified, inform people that something has happened, and get a reply back to see who can partake, so you know how big your organization is going to be. Of course, there are key people. If they are not responding, we would call them. Most of the people do reply and we can see how the organization is going to be formed. 

And then the key message: if you have a serious event, you need to know what you are talking about. That is why the information is so crucial in the beginning.For this, we have first messages ready to go. They are cleared with a lot of authorities so we can really respond quickly. And you need to rehearse it. So, we rehearse them ‒ at Norwegian we do it every month. We have different events and we test it.

Is it difficult to establish communication, facts if the event/situation is ongoing? For instance, during an emergency landing, when you do not know how it is going to end up.

We have standardized certain messages and we have categorized the events. When there is a full mayday, we know that, unfortunately, we may have a very serious event at hand.Then we have the standardized pre-messages. When we get one of them, a smaller part of the organization goes into a stand-by mode. When the situation is over, it will either be declared as a mayday, or, hopefully everything goes well - we get a new notification that everything is ok.

For instance, when we had bad weather at Gatwick, one of our planes could not land and had to do a go-around. We received a message “of the go around, we are trying to go to Luton, but Luton was already being full. So, pilots decided to go to Stansted.'' Then we received a second message [saying] “aircraft landed at Stansted”. But these are the type of events when you are pre-advised and could step up.

After the Ethiopian accident, pre-established communications protocols changed within hours. Do you have any observations regarding this?

In general, whenever there is an accident, airlines must fulfill their role ‒ to respond and take care of people who have been affected.