No sooner had Supply Chain Matters raised our awareness to the collective march to the bottom of the U.S. airline industry came this week’s network-wide computer systems disruption impacting Delta Airlines.  As we observed, it is looking more and more like the industry is being led by financial types who seem to have completely ignored the tenets and principles of basic operations and network management.

But, Supply Chain Matters wants to extend direct praise to Delta Chief Executive, Ed Bastian. The primary reason- as the CEO he stepped-up and took full responsibility for the systems failure resulting in the cancelling of thousands of flights and inconvenience to countless customers. He further praised all of his employees for the extraordinary effort in delaing with this crisis and efforts to assist impacted customers.  Delta_Airlines_seats

The airline further posted a video where the CEO directly apologized to Delta customers.

According to Bastian, the disruption began when a power switch failed causing a power outage that subsequently led to other cascading incidents including a transformer blow out in Delta’s data center. The entire system crashed and backup systems did not perform as expected. Bastian indicated openly: “This is our responsibility- the buck stops here.”

What impressed us even more was Bastia’s statement:

“It’s not clear the priorities in our investment have been in the right place. It has caused us to ask a lot of questions which candidly we don’t have a lot of answers for.”

Unlike some other airlines, Delta has invested in operational capability both in aircraft and in supporting systems. In 2012 we praised Delta’s bold supply chain vertical integration initiative in acquiring its own oil refinery. We have also highlighted innovation in aircraft re-purposing.

Yet, this week, the system failed, and the airline has taken full responsibility to find out why and hopefully correct flaws.

Too often in times of major operational or supply chain disruption, CEO’s turn silent and de-facto let operational executives take the arrows and blowback. Some are arrogant enough to openly blame disruption on suppliers, partners or equipment, not acknowledging the principles of ownership and accountability.

Hopefully this week’s incident may provide a watershed for the U.S. airline industry. The compass of services focused on customer needs for a convenient, somewhat pleasant and reliable travel experience has been pointed in the wrong direction, and the consequences and cost of these decisions are coming home to roost.

Praise to a CEO who demonstrates accountability and leadership. We need more of this.

Bob Ferrari