Thursday, January 10, 2008

Save Qantas Before It’s Too Late.

Qantas seems to be having a rough patch. For a company whose greatest asset is its reputation, there has been a surplus of negative press for the last couple of years. What makes this a matter of concern is that, due to its history, all of us as Australians feel as if we have a personal stake in the fortunes of the national airline, even if we don’t actually own any of its shares. Qantas is important to all of us because it is a symbol of our nation and our success.

So here’s the question: Is this rough patch the result of bad luck, or bad management?

So far Qantas has escaped serious catastrophe. But this week’s electrical failure came within a bee’s wing of being exactly that. If Bangkok had not been so close, the aircraft would have almost certainly crashed. For some time now, many people have been concerned that safety and maintenance standards are being undermined by the cost conscious culture that now exists not only at Qantas, but throughout the corporate world.

Modern day economic thinking stretches people and resources to their limits to produce greater profits. But in doing so tolerances are reduced and margins for error disappear. Niceties such as customer service are eroded, and judgements are made on the basis of cost / return ratios rather than best practice. When it comes to aviation safety that’s just not good enough, unless we are prepared to accept that from time to time people will die in accidents, because preventing those accidents is just too expensive to be worth it.

There was a time when industries were run by people who knew how to build the product or create the service, while accountants were given the job of working out how to make it pay. Now the roles have been reversed so that the beancounters are calling the shots, and the people who actually know how to make something fly somehow have to figure out how to do that within the constraints of a system which is serving profits before people.

As for Qantas, none of us want to see it lose its hard won reputation for safety and service. We all want to be proud of our national icon.

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