Rolls Royce engine troubles: why aviation industry closes ranks on safety but pharma can’t

You might have heard (November 10, 2010) about the Qantas plane to Sydney whose engine parts blew out  part of  the fuselage and  the plane luckily made it back to Singapore. Since then several airlines with the Rolls Royce engines have been grounded for checks and verification.

[Note: This post from November 10, 2010 was updated for formatting issues on May 31, 2021]

It’s interesting that competitors like GE and Pratt and Whitney are not gloating on the misfortune of  Rolls but rather are emphasizing that everyone in aviation is focussed on safety first.  Industry members tend to show solidarity in these things particularly when risk is contained in time.  Australian carrier Qantas is also unlikely to go outside the buyer-seller relationship via law courts to fix problems but  settle matters bilaterally with Rolls.

The aviation industry has  very long order and delivery times for aircraft and engines and it requires years of huge expenses and focus to get things right. Coupled with these long time-huge investment  on the supply side is the final thrifty consumer on the demand side who travels less in a slow economy. The industry as a whole needs to stay together on fundamental questions like safety. Keeping  the discourse civil is also  facilitated with  fewer customers  and a smaller and cohesive sales force.

In contrast, consider product recalls in pharmaceuticals where although top management might empathize with a competitor’s woes the sales rep at the doctor’s office might be less careful in criticizing the competitor. Just too many contact points including pharmacies I guess.

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