Boeing’s highly anticipated release of its 787 Dreamliner in 2011 placed the Chicago-based company in the glow of the media spotlight. The unprecedented, lightweight plane was heralded for its quieter ride, passenger amenities and advanced fuel-efficiency which enabled the Dreamliner to fly extremely long distances. Even before the official release of the new model, orders were flowing in and Boeing has a current backlog of roughly 850 planes.
But the Dreamliner went from media darling to media danger over the past week. Airline carriers reported three separate incidents of brake issues, fuel leaks and a battery fire, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch a comprehensive evaluation of Boeing’s celebrated new airplane. The recent events have prompted a much different and potential destructive form of press attention.
It is critical that Boeing take the initiative to ensure that the reputation of its valued Dreamliner (and the company itself) is not permanently tarnished. Boeing needs to remain as transparent as possible about the situation and give its full support to the FAA testing to demonstrate its commitment to passenger safety. The company should also make itself accessible to consumers and address their qualms during this delicate time. In executing the company’s crisis communications plan, the key for Boeing is to walk a fine line of expressing concern about the noted issues without frightening the public.
The investigation currently presents a PR challenge, but the federal inspection also creates an opportunity for Boeing. Passing a detailed examination could put public concerns to rest and give the Dreamliner an additional approval to tout.
While unexpected issues can create hiccups in the best laid plans, it is usually important for companies to address sensitive issues head on. And if prepared to pivot quickly, a dangerous threat can sometimes even reveal an untapped opportunity for companies in the spotlight.