The Word On Dreamliner Glitches: 'Teething Problems'

A string of glitches to various systems in Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner seems to be adding up to a nettling public relations problem for the manufacturer. But its executives -- hampered by what they can say publicly because of ongoing investigations –- are assuring both the public and its customers that there’s nothing to worry about and, so far, appear to be mounting a successful campaign. 

“This is not the time to go into crisis mode, but rather spotlight the safe record they have already been able to maintain,” Ernest Del Buono, chair of crisis practice for Levick Strategic Communications, tells the Christian Science Monitor’s Daniel B. Wood. “They just need to stick to it and make sure people understand the huge number of hours flown and safety records already established, and that these are not issues with the aircraft itself in design or engineering.”



Indeed, a company executive said yesterday that it has “extreme confidence” in the aircraft that “is supposed to revolutionize air travel,” as the AP’s Joshua Freed puts it, and its stock was up 3.5% after two days of “sharp decline” -– the largest gain in the Dow Wednesday, another AP story reports

“We’re growing convinced the issues are ordinary ‘teething’ problems or even pedestrian operational hitches that are being magnified by the 787′s media glow,” Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner said in a note to clients, MarketWatch reports

A cancelled flight Wednesday -- due to what a computer apparently erroneously identified as a brake problem on an All Nippon Airways 787 in Japan -- was the third incident in three days. On Tuesday, a Japan Airlines 787 developed a fuel leak before take-off at Logan Airport in Boston. On Monday, an electrical fire developed on a Japan Airlines 787 flight that had arrived in Boston. Passengers had disembarked, and there were no reported injuries. 

Without commenting directly on the ongoing investigation, “I'm 100% convinced that the aircraft is safe to fly," said Boeing vp and 787 chief project engineer Mike Sinnett in the company’s “first broad comments since the fire Monday,” according to Jon Ostrower and Andy Pasztor in the Wall Street Journal. “The real issues are the economic impact to customers, and all of our reputations, so we work very hard to resolve those" issues.”

Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board officials emphasized yesterday that an investigation into the cause of the fire was in its early stages. One source tells the Journal’s reporters, however, that “perhaps as soon as early next week … regulators may call for some type of review or reassessment of design and manufacturing issues related to the Dreamliner's electrical systems.”

“Asian customers rallied behind the U.S. plane maker, however, saying such teething troubles were not uncommon on new planes and confirming they had no plans to scale back or cancel orders for the aircraft, which has a list price of $207 million,” NBC News reports

"It's a new plane, and some minor glitches do happen. It's not a cause of concern," said a spokesman for Air India, which is currently flying six 787s and has 21 more on order. Spokesmen for All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, Air China and Hainan Airlines offered a similar show of support in the story.

It also “got a vote of confidence ”from the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar al Baker, who is “known to publicly slam manufacturers for performances deemed sub-par” and zeroed in on Boeing specifically last month, according to Bloomberg’s Robert Tuttle.

“I think history shows that, over time, the learning curve improves, not only on the manufacturing process, and ultimately on the ability to make money on producing the airplane,” he said, also calling the recent issues “teething problems” and saying they won’t affect the airline’s purchase plans.

“None of this is a showstopper, and none of this should signal this product is fundamentally flawed,” Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia tells Jad Mouawad and Bettina Wassener of the New York Times. “But whether these are design glitches or manufacturing glitches, either way it’s a serious hit to Boeing’s image.”

But most analysts seem to be taking a long view. 

“It was a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality that happened this week with the incident,” Peter Arment, managing director aerospace & defense for Sterne Agee, tellsPuget Sound Business Journal’s Steve Wilhelm about the stock’s plunge to below $73 earlier this week. “I think it’s going to continue to recover.”

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