Why Training Matters—And Saves Lives!

How an airline’s training meant the difference between life and death for 300 passengers and crewmembers last year.

On August 3, 2016, Emirates, the airline that only weeks prior had been announced as the No.1 airline in the world, confirmed that flight EK521 traveling from India to Dubai had been involved in an accident upon arrival at Dubai International Airport. Witnesses could see the thick black smoke billowing out of the Boeing 777 aircraft as it came skidding to a halt on the runway after having to crash land. It was clearly a serious, potentially deadly situation for all 282 passengers and 18 crewmembers on board. The next few minutes would decide the fate for all on board.

Fortunately, for all on board, their loved ones, and for the company’s reputation, Emirates has invested unreservedly in its training programs. This company understands that 90 seconds can mean the difference between life and death, lawsuits, and even the eventual collapse of the company… or it can be an opportunity to show the world exactly why it is the safest airline in the world. Training has paid off for it. Let’s examine why.

First-Class Training
Emirates’ training facility boasts a state-of-the-art comprehensive program that combines both theoretical and practical components with actual simulators of all aircraft types. New cabin crewmembers don’t just listen to lectures, learning how to serve a meal or how to apply make-up, it’s far more technical as they learn about each plane. During training, they are put through rigorous challenges such as navigating through dark, smoke-filled cabins to open doors and inflate evacuation slides, while being timed to ensure they can vacate a plane within obligatory regulation standards of 60 to 90 seconds. There is no exception to this rule. They simulate emergency scenarios such as engine failures, rapid decompression, and water landings. They are trained to be able to yell out commands in situations where the PA system no longer works, or to act in a manner that reflects the seriousness of the situation so passengers can understand the sense of urgency regardless of what language they speak. They must be able to demonstrate competent, life-saving CPR techniques, as well as how to restrain unruly passengers who pose a threat. They themselves have practiced opening emergency exit doors, inflating evacuation slides, and sliding down into freezing cold water all while still maintaining and conducting leadership and safety principles for as long as humanly possible.

In training scenarios, recruits realize they are safe, but in real-life situations, such as the one that occurred on August 3, 2016, one can’t help but wonder what kept those crew members focused, committed, and loyal, suppressing their own survival instinct to race for the door and be first down the slide?
The answer to this has to come down to training! It was the intensive eight weeks of training and the required annual training and testing that empowered those crew members to remain in control and demonstrate incredible leadership that saved the lives of all on board in a matter of seconds.
Leadership: The Common Denominator

Most companies don’t have the same kind of life-or-death dynamics as this company, but some do. While many employees moan at being required too attend another Workplace Health and Safety refresher course, they only need to be reminded of the many split-second decisions they may one day need to make to save their own life and perhaps the lives of many.
One common denominator of all businesses is the dynamics of leadership. It is what made the difference in saving 300 lives on that day. Sadly, one life was lost—a firefighter attending to the fire lost his own life while saving the lives of others.

When we mention the word, “leadership,” most visualize one person out in front with a team following behind the leader. We think of leaders commanding from stages or platforms. We envision them as standing isolated, meaning it’s impossible to give the power to more than one because that would be too confusing.

As a trainer of leadership courses, I often ask my students, “If you consider yourself a leader, turn around and tell me who’s following you.” Many participants chuckle and confess there are people behind them or underneath them on the organizational ladder, but most are not confident that they are leading. Then I ask them “… Do you have to be ‘out in front’ to be considered a ‘leader’?”

I believe the answer to this question is “No,” but this is where we must discuss the many different styles of leadership and why, more often than not, a true leader knows when to follow!
Think back to the crash-landing scenario of this airplane, when there was no time to have a “tug of war” over instructions or ideas. There were many “leaders” dressed as cabin crew that day, but they were leaders who were following well-rehearsed directions. They were not fighting to be the leader out in front…leaving everyone else behind, but rather they led from behind. They were true leaders who fortunately took training very seriously and saved more than 300 lives that day.

Ultimately, if you want to become a great leader, you first must be a great follower.

Patty McCracken, director of her company, Actions~Matter Business Solutions, has been training corporations on soft skills for more than 16 years. She is also the proud mother of a daughter who is a Business-class cabin crewmember for Emirates. For more information on airline safety rankings, visit: http://www.traveller.com.au/airline-safety-worlds-safest-airlines-named-in-annual-airline-safety-rankings-for-2017-gtmi7l

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