Business Continuity Lessons from 10,000 Feet in the Air

Have you ever considered what happens when essential systems for which no backup is possible then stop working? In production lines and medical systems, for instance, interruptions may have serious repercussions, but emergency power systems and spares may save the day. But what about jet-engine aircraft and helicopters, and the “business continuity” challenges they face?

Aircraft must keep flying, if they are to avoid falling out of the sky. Helicopter are akin to cement delivery trucks, that must maintain constant rotation or forever turn to stone. So, what happens if all the jet engines or the helicopter rotors fail?

Take the jet airliner first. Fortunately, it can still glide, perhaps for 40 or 50 miles, if engines stop working in mid-flight. This may be enough for a pilot to find suitable terrain for an emergency landing, possibly an airstrip or even an expanse of water.

Ram air turbines, whose blades are turned by the entering air to produce both hydraulic and electric power, allow the operation of landing gear and brakes. It may even be possible for the engines to be restarted in mid-flight, depending on the cause of the failure. The helicopter procedure is a little different.

The pilot must put the machine into a controlled descent that makes the air rushing up from below the helicopter turn the rotor, a manoeuvre known as autorotation. The helicopter can then be guided down for a successful landing.

In business continuity terms, there are several points of interest:

  • The critical systems involved have (fortunately) been designed with emergency backup capabilities
  • People with the right training can turn potentially disastrous situations into far less serious ones
  • There may be little time to act (perhaps 10 minutes for a jetliner pilot, 1 minute for a helicopter pilot), so prior practice and a cool head are vital.

Not every business has to stay up in the air like aircraft do, but the comparisons with jetliners and helicopters can be food for thought when it comes to thinking out business continuity planning and management.

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