Boeing takes out full-page ads to repair reputation

AFP-JIJI

Boeing on Monday took out full-page advertisements in major Japanese newspapers as it tries to piece together its reputation in the wake of the worldwide Dreamliner grounding.

The U.S. manufacturer is fighting a rear-guard action in Japan, the biggest single market for its troubled 787. The planes have been sitting on the ground around the globe since battery problems on two Japanese-owned planes in January.

“We deeply apologize to Japanese customers and companies affected for the trouble and concern caused by our new Boeing 787,” Boeing said in the ad, which has a photograph of an airborne Dreamliner.

“We have suspended all flights since the trouble over batteries on the 787 emerged, but we have introduced safety measures to address all possible causes,” it said.

“If any trouble such as heating emerges, new casing and exhaust systems will prevent any impact on the safety of flights and passengers and allow the plane to complete a safe flight to its destination,” it said.

The advertisement came after a modified Dreamliner took to the skies over Tokyo on Sunday with top Boeing and All Nippon Airways executives aboard.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority on Thursday issued a formal approval of Boeing’s 787 battery fix, clearing the way for the aircraft to fly again.

ANA and Japan Airlines account for around half the 50 Dreamliners in service worldwide and regaining the confidence of Japan’s flying public will be key if Boeing is to see returns on its vast investment in the next-generation plane.

Despite Sunday’s successful test flight, it could be at least a month before all the battery fixes are put in place and the entire fleet is back in the air.

Between mid January, when the 787s were grounded, and the end of May, ANA has canceled a total of 3601 international and domestic flights, while JAL has canceled or reduced a total of 766 flights, company spokesmen said Tuesday.

“We express our deep gratitude towards passengers, airlines, suppliers and the investigating authorities in each country . . . for their support on the occasion of resuming operations of the completely modified 787,” Boeing said in the ad.

The ad appeared in five national newspapers and a major regional paper, including the Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, and Mainichi Shimbun, three of the world’s four largest-selling newspapers, with combined morning edition sales of more than 21 million copies.

  • Spudator

    “If any trouble such as heating emerges, new casing and exhaust systems will prevent any impact on the safety of flights and passengers and allow the plane to complete a safe flight to its destination,” [the advertisement] said.

    That sentence is a perfect example of how important it is to read between the lines. The message here, which Boeing’s copywriters have done a pretty good job of obfuscating, is that Boeing haven’t definitely fixed this problem. All they’ve done is to come up with a way of jerry-rigging the batteries so that if one does catch fire again, the fire will be contained and the smoke dispersed. (Basically, they’re going to stick the batteries in fireproof boxes.) And the reason they’ve had to resort to such a workaround is that they don’t know what actually caused the original overheating and fires.

    Apparently, Boeing have made over 80 educated guesses as to what might have caused the original problems, and have tweaked the batteries to prevent those hypothetical causes from occurring. So if the actual cause of the original problems was one of the hypothetical causes, then OK, problem probably solved. But if it wasn’t, then more battery fires are likely to occur because the tweaks don’t cater for that cause. Admittedly, those fires should now be safely contained; however, it’s not a very satisfactory solution, is it?

    Another interesting omission from this ad is that there’s no mention of the maker of the lithium-ion cells in the batteries—Japanese company GS Yuasa (unless, of course, AFP-JIJI missed that out from the story). So Boeing seem to be behaving very nobly by shouldering all the blame for the problem and not pointing the finger at anyone else. I guess they realise it’s not good PR to embarrass their Japanese customers by letting them know that a Japanese company might be the reason the planes got grounded.

    Talking of GS Yuasa, I wonder if they have any idea why their lithium-ion cells can catch fire. Well, given Boeing’s need to resort to jerry-rigging and tweaking, they obviously haven’t. And as the cells are the active components in the batteries, one has to wonder whether they’re not the real problem and whether the only way to truly fix the batteries isn’t for GS Yuasa to redesign the cells—or maybe for Boeing to source the cells from another maker.