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The case study is about Alaska Airlines and the crash of one of its flights (Flight 261). Alaska Airlines was founded in 1932. During its inception, it was a small regional airline. It is best known as the airline that “goes the extra mile” and for its service offerings and accessibility. In 1999, the airline became the largest airline in West Coast and tenth largest in the country. In a brief period of 1989 to 199, the airline’s capacity doubled and its workforce increased by 58 percent. In 1999, it was among the top ten airlines and had the youngest fleet. Further, until 1999 it had been fined least amount among the other airlines by FAA. The company was then headed by John Kelly. The brief background of the company shows that its prospects were fright from the nature of events in 1999.
The crash of Flight 261 was an unprecedented event, which brought windfall of problems to the airline’s doorsteps. The company though retained customer loyalty faced issues related to aircraft maintenance and security. The investigation of the crash revealed that there were several maintenance problems with the aircraft including “damaged jackscrew assembly”, signs of excessive wear and tear, etc. further inspections also revealed that the aircrafts of Alaska faced more wear than other airlines – for instance, Alaska had 0.24 problems while that of Continental was 0.01 and that of Northwest was 0.0051. Further investigation showed that Alaska airlines had learned about the wear of the jackscrew as early as in 1997. However, the plane had put on additional 5000 miles and still the jackscrew was not replaced. This brought the maintenance practices of Alaska Airlines under scrutiny. Therefore, post 261 crashes there were a few challenges faced by the airline. They were:
- There were maintenance issues that caused a lot of stir and questioned the maintenance practices of the company. Especially the investigation of NTSB, which reported that the jackscrew problem was identified earlier and was, decided that it required to be replaced; however, it was not done even after 5000 miles of flying made by the aircraft. Evidently, the question arose if the flight crash was due to an unprecedented accident or the outcome of company neglect.
- An old employee of the company, John Gustafson, alleged that Alaska Airlines repeatedly falsified airline records to shows their airlines airworthy as he, as a mechanic, had faced similar problem and resigned due to it.
- The company which manufactured MD-80 faced serious problems in 1990s and was almost about to be closed by FAA due to severe breakdowns in manufacturing procedures.
- Apart from the security issues, there were major labor problems that the company had to face. The company also “diluted the contractual work laws” which demanded the pilots to work longer than the earlier required hours. Then there was another release in the newspaper that there was lack of grease in the recovered jackscrew.
The problem of Alaska Airlines was to address the increasing problem of the press and the labor union issues.
Evidently, there were internal as well as external issues that Alaska Airlines faced which created this problem. The airline’s internal mechanism was not smooth. Though there was maintenance of the plane, however, the changes and alteration in damaged and worn out parts were not done instantly. Thus, this was due to lack of quality standards that the company followed. Further employee relations too were balked due to the negligent attitude of the airline managers who were keener on increasing profits rather than looking at the safety issues.
As the leader of the company, John Kelly was not successful in earning the trust of the employees. It appears that a mechanic who was not satisfied with the aircraft and deemed it not suitable to fly was forced to conceal the records. Now he had resigned by sending his resignation letter to Kelly, however Kelly did not take any suitable action, and let go of the mechanic. As a leader, he should have investigated this matter and looked deeper into the maintenance practices of the company. This was a small sign of the grievance and employee dissatisfaction of the company. The employee who was not listened to left the company due to unsuitable conduct by the managers. This is more an issue of ethicality, which lacked in the company and thus spoiled the culture within the organization. Thus, the company must concentrate to streamline its ethical conduct and maintenance practices.
After the crash the company took several steps to satisfy the customers however they lacked any initiative to reach to the employees who must have been equally shocked at the event. The company concentrated more on the assertion on providing the service to the customers, however it failed to realize that being in service industry implied that the internal customers were equally important. Further, the company diluted the employee contract and forced the pilots to work extra-time. These dissatisfied employees as these affected physiological needs2 of the employees to rest.
Thus, the company must focus on two issues:
- maintenance and ethical conduct,
- relation with employees to grow a culture, which the employees can associate with.
1 Calculated as a ratio of number of plane with problem to number of planes inspected (Table 1 of case study)
2 Maslow’s motivational theory of hierarchy of needs