Will Dreamliner be a Nightmare for Boeing?

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    Dangerous glitches create nasty crisis management scenario for plane manufacturer

    Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 has been billed as the marquee aircraft for passenger lines the world over, but a recent string of scary electrical errors has led authorities in many countries, including Europe, Japan and India, along with our FAA, to ground the planes.

    Crisis communications at work

    To its credit, Boeing’s crisis management has been strong thus far. In a statement, CEO Jim McNerney expressed his intention to be a part of solving the problems alongside the FAA:

    “Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist.”

    McNerney also reiterated his faith in the Dreamliner, and offered assurances regarding the craft’s return to service:

    “We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787’s safety and to return the airplanes to service.”

    He even included a frequently overlooked aspect of crisis communications in his statement – a dose of compassion for the affected airlines and their passengers:

    “Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers.”

    Others in the company are speaking out in support as well. Chief engineer Mike Sinnett told reporters that he flies on Dreamliners all the time, and is 100% confident the plane is safe.

    As far as communications, Boeing is doing well. However, despite claims that they will stand behind the company, its customer base may already be shrinking. Only 24 hours after stating it would not change its existing order of 15 Dreamliners, Qantas airlines has dropped its order down to 14. Not yet an extremely worrying issue on its own, but Boeing execs have to be praying that this isn’t the crack in the dam.

    The weeks ahead

    There will be endless questions asked of Boeing over the course of the FAA investigation, estimated to take several weeks at best. In order to avoid the introduction of damaging rumor and innuendo the company will have to maintain a strong presence, sharing as much information as possible with its anxious customers, the traveling public and the media that serves them both.

    Stock up on coffee and call in the reinforcements, Boeing PR, the next month could be rough.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]