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Was Airbus' apology after denying Chinese visitors access to a plane at the SG Airshow enough?

Was Airbus' apology after denying Chinese visitors access to a plane at the SG Airshow enough?

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Airbus' brand sentiments have plummeted from 32.3% positive and 17.6% negative to 5.5% positive and 38.6% negative after it issued an apology on Chinese social media platform Weibo, according to media intelligence firm CARMA. This comes after some visitors said that they were stopped from viewing a German military plane during the Singapore Airshow over the past weekend.

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In posts made on Weibo, Chinese visitors said that they were not allowed to board an Airbus A400M transport aircraft belonging to the German air force. The visitors claimed that staff of the event were privately checking the nationalities of Chinese visitors while other races were not checked. 

Staff reportedly told visitors from China to get off the plane and allegedly pushed them, causing one of the visitors to sprain their foot and nearly fall off the plane. 

The post also addressed the fact that Singapore is an inclusive country, and that Germany has also practiced racial equality since after the war and that they should not be discriminating against Chinese citizens in this way. 

Another poster on Weibo shared an image of a green alien mascot on the plane saying that even aliens could board the A400 transport plane but that Chinese visitors could not. 

In response, Airbus issued an apology on Weibo saying that it noticed that the audience had questions about the visit of an A400M military transport aircraft.

Airbus said that as soon as the matter was brought to their attention, it worked with the relevant parties quickly and ensured that the aircraft was open to all. 

It apologised for the inconvenience and said that it "deeply regrets" the incident.

Airbus went on to say that it is committed to becoming a trusted long-term partner of China's aviation industry, adding that it has always invested in China and that it respects the country. 

Chinese visitors were reportedly able to visit the A400M plane from Sunday, according to the Global Times.

Was the apology enough?

While the apology was timely and sincere, CARMA reported a significant dip in sentiments. Airbus' word cloud also changed drastically with words such as 'aviation', 'Boeing' and 'international' standing out prior to the incident. 

The word cloud after the incident changed drastically to include words such as 'German', 'Chinese' and 'barred'.

So, was the apology and reparations actually effective? According to communications professionals MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to, Airbus did the best it could do considering the circumstances. 

"Based on what happened at the Singapore Airshow, Airbus needed to react quickly and to reach a vast Chinese audience swiftly, and Weibo was the right choice," said Jose Raymond, managing director at SW Strategies, noting that there are about 260 million users on Weibo in China on a daily basis.

He added that Airbus acted swiftly to their credit and found a way to make things right very quickly, including altering the on-ground visitation protocol, and reminding everyone that Airbus has a strategic partnership with China in the aviation sector.

"The lesson which Airbus has taught us is when faced with a scenario, knowing how and when to nip the matter in the bud is as important as knowing where to put the fire out, and their decision to use Weibo was bullet-point precise," said Raymond. 

Agreeing with him, Charu Srivastava, chief strategy officer and corporate affairs lead at TriOn & Co said that the apology was honest and authentic and includes sincere steps to rectify the issue and improve the experience of Chinese visitors for the remaining days of the airshow.

"The use of Weibo aligned with the audience as well," explained Srivastava. "It is also the platform on which the affected Chinese visitors aired their grievances and where the negative conversation further developed. It helps that the original apology was picked up by various media outlets that amplified its reach," she said, adding:

Issuing a release would have slowed down the spread of the apology especially considering the tight timeline of the situation.

She also explained that when it comes to making an apology of this magnitude, what is needed is speed, accuracy, compassion and relevance. 

"It is critical to fully understand and consider the situation, the impact and the concerns and perspectives of stakeholders when approaching the apology," she said, adding that once the apology has been formed it is then crucial to distribute it via relevant channels to reach the target audience.

"Most importantly, it is crucial to be genuine in what is said and publicly put out," said Srivastava.

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