Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Boeing's Dreamliner Nightmare

The trouble with breakthrough technology is that sometimes it breaks.

Boeing is going through some turbulent times at the moment due to anomalies with their new highly-anticipated, much-delayed 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

On Monday an empty Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston's Logan Airport caught fire - apparently caused by malfunctioning batteries. Tuesday a different JAL Dreamliner preparing for takeoff had to abort its trip due to a massive fuel leak.

 According to the Wall Street Journal, United Airlines discovered faulty wiring on one of their six new jumbo aircraft.

To be fair, a tarmac fuel leak on any other model aircraft would probably never make news. But being blessed with a marvelous new flying machine carries with it the curse of attracting extra attention for any flaw.

Boeing would be wise to be extra careful -- just a few negative stories can, in the minds of the public, turn their air ace into an air Edsel.

So Boeing is all over this and aggressively grabbing control and steering this PR crisis to a safe landing, right? Well, no.

From what we can see, Boeing doesn't have its head in the clouds but stuck in the sand. According to the media, a Boeing spokesman when asked about yesterday's flaming Dreamliner "we are aware of the event and we are working with our customer." Event?  Customer?  How about reassuring passengers?

 The New York Times reports that in a statement on Tuesday Boeing said it saw no relationship between Monday's fire and previous incidents with the plane's power system. "Boeing is cooperating with the N.T.S.B. in the investigation of this incident," they said. "Before providing more detail, we will give our technical teams the time they need to do a thorough job and ensure we are dealing with facts, not speculation."

A Boeing spokesman said the company was aware of the fuel leak problem but declined to comment.

The airlines aren't helping. Christen David, a spokeswoman for United Airlines told the media that their airline inspected its 787s after the Boston incident but refused to discuss the results or confirm other reports that they found scrambled wiring in one aircraft.

It would be a mistake for Boeing to shout that there is nothing wrong with their aircraft -- they have no way of knowing that yet. But it is just as big of a mistake to remain essentially silent.

The vacuum created by Boeing's "spokes mum" will be filled by uninformed and ill-intentioned people who will be screaming that the sky and the Dreamliner is falling. There is always something a company can and should say.

The Dreamliner is known to be very quiet in flight -- but in PR as in flight -- when you hear complete silence -- it is often not a good thing.

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