Airways Magazine

Op-Ed Contributor: Is The Media Biased Against The Boeing 787?

 Breaking News

Op-Ed Contributor: Is The Media Biased Against The Boeing 787?

Op-Ed Contributor: Is The Media Biased Against The Boeing 787?
April 10
18:28 2013

MIAMI — Over the course of nine days, the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner became a living nightmare for Boeing as two battery issues caused a worldwide grounding of the Dreamliner fleet. On January 7th, a Japan Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s battery caught on fire in Boston, and the incident caused some concern about Boeing’s use of lithium-ion batteries. Nonetheless, this was not the last Dreamliner battery incident. On January 15th, an All Nippon Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner made an emergency landing in Japan due to a battery overheating, and, approximately two hours later, the Japanese government grounded both All Nippon Airways’ and Japan Airlines’ Dreamliner fleets for a mandatory battery inspection. The following day, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded United Airlines’ fleet of six Dreamliners. Shortly after, other government aviation agencies followed. As Boeing works around the clock to find a solution to the battery problems, the media continues to report on every development of the Dreamliner saga. Many are questioning who is at fault for the Dreamliner battery problems, and the Seattle Times and the BBC are both blaming Boeing for the issues. Further, the Seattle Times is critical of Boeing by making it appear that Boeing is downplaying the Dreamliner battery problems. Yet, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times are often less critical of Boeing, instead blaming the FAA.

(Credits: Author)

(Credits: Author)

The Seattle Times appears to blame Boeing for the Dreamliner battery issues, and they make it seem like Boeing is not admitting how serious the battery problems are. After the Dreamliners were grounded, the Seattle Times published an article on January 19 that comes across as a bit critical of Boeing. When not reporting the economic impact, The Seattle Times journalist, Dominic Gates, only quotes from either current or former Boeing executives with the exception of one airline executive. Gates includes one of the former Boeing executives’ quotes which state, ‘“You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone at Boeing who believes the FAA should have grounded [the Dreamliners]…they all believe the airplane is safe…at no stage have they appeared to be open to admitting the seriousness of what’s happened…they are basically still in denial”’ (“At Boeing, Pushback on 787 Groundings”).

Further, an airline fleet planning executive is quoted as saying that “he feels ‘very uneasy’ that Boeing minimized the in-flight threat” (Gates, “At Boeing, Pushback on 787 Groundings”). Both the former Boeing executive and the airline executive appear to be concerned that Boeing has softened the seriousness of the battery problem because Boeing is unhappy that the FAA grounded the Dreamliners. Gates explains this through a non-Boeing employee point of view by using both the former Boeing executive and airline executive’s credentials to make this claim. However, the Seattle Times begins to question who is to blame for the Dreamliner battery problems, and, in an article published on February 4th, the Seattle Times published, “But few may realize it was Boeing, not FAA inspectors, that largely vouched for the Dreamliner’s safety” (Song). After making this statement, Song explains how the “self-certification” process Boeing used to certify their Dreamliner works.

During the “self-certification” process, the FAA plays more of an administrative role by focusing on the entire system’s safety while Boeing focuses on each individual part (Song). By explaining the “self-certification” process, the Seattle Times makes it seem as if Boeing is at fault for the Dreamliner problems. They infer that it was Boeing’s job to ensure that the lithium-ion batteries would not pose a threat. In mid-March, Boeing proposed a solution to the FAA, and Gates recapped the news conference. Gates explains that, “Two top Boeing executives delivered an unflinching defense of the 787 Dreamliner in a Friday morning news conference in Japan” (“Boeing: ‘No Fire is Possible’ With 787 Battery Fix”). While a fix is good news for Boeing and their Dreamliner customers, Gates continues to be critical of Boeing by saying that they were “unflinching” when explaining the solution. Use of the word “unflinching” makes Boeing appear overly confident that their solution to the battery problem will work, and, by calling the news conference a “defense,” Gates hints that Boeing is still holding a grudge against the FAA because they grounded the Dreamliners. Further, calling it a “defense” makes it seem like Boeing is at fault for the issues. During the course of the battery issues, the Seattle Times reports that Boeing is at fault for the Dreamliner battery problems, and Boeing seems to be softening the serious nature of the battery problems.

Like the Seattle Times, the BBC has also been critical of Boeing. On January 17, 2013, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reported about the 787 Dreamliner safety fears related to the lithium-ion batteries. Wingfield-Hayes’ article may seem objective, but he hints that he believes that the Dreamliner is not the safest aircraft by explaining that, “Grounding aircraft on this scale over safety concerns is rare. The last time the FAA ordered a general grounding of an aircraft model was in 1979” (Wingfield-Hayes). By mentioning how rare it is for the FAA to issue a general grounding, he is able to explain why the aircraft is not safe.

The Seattle Times also mentioned how rare a general grounding is, which explains the seriousness of the problems. Wingfield-Hayes also includes a few quotes from Leithen Francis who is a writer for Aviation Week. Francis explains that it was the FAA’s decision to ground the 787, and the safety concerns over the use of lithium-ion batteries could cause other airlines to choose to fly the rival Airbus A330 instead (Wingfield-Hayes). However, Francis does not mention that there are key differences between the Airbus A330 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, ranging from the cabin to fuel efficiency, which is why airlines purchased the Dreamliner and not the A330. Additionally, Airbus is preparing to roll out the A350 XWB to eventually replace the Airbus A330 this summer. While remaining critical of Boeing, like the Seattle Times, the BBC mentions that, “Japan’s transport ministry identified the causes of two fuel leaks on a Dreamliner operated by Japan Airlines” (“Boeing ‘set to Offer Plan to Fix Dreamliner Battery”).

The BBC continues to hint that the Dreamliner is not a safe aircraft as they point out other problems the Dreamliners experienced between the battery incidents. Unlike the Seattle Times, the BBC points out this problem which reiterates that the BBC does not think the Dreamliner is safe. The BBC blames Boeing for lack of safety as they explain, “Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has said it will cancel all Boeing 787 flights until at least the end of May, in the latest blow to Boeing” (“Dreamliner: Japan’s ANA Cancels More Boeing 787 Flights”). By referring to the grounding of the Dreamliners as a “blow,” the BBC faults Boeing for the Dreamliner problems. The BBC leads to the belief that All Nippon Airways’ cancellations are Boeing’s responsibility for not providing a reliable product. The BBC is critical of Boeing as they point out that Dreamliner is not a safe aircraft due to various other problems, and, ultimately blame Boeing for the Dreamliner battery problems.

The Wall Street Journal seems to be less critical of Boeing, instead shifting more of the blame to the FAA for lack of over-sight of the certification of the the batteries. In an article published on January 17th, the journalists explain that “Years of tests and deliberations ended in 2007 with the FAA certifying the use of the powerful lithium batteries on 787s” (Ostrower, Pasztor, and Koh). The Wall Street Journal blames the FAA for the Dreamliner problems because the testing phase of the Dreamliner’s certification ended with the FAA certifying the Dreamliner in 2007. Yet, they mention in the next paragraph that “final approval for the 787 also was contingent on Boeing, among other things” (Ostrower, Pasztor, and Koh). By mentioning that the FAA’s certification ended the testing phase of the Dreamliner earlier in the article, the Wall Street Journal believes that the FAA should have identified the potential battery problems.
Yet, the Wall Street Journal continues on by saying that “the FAA also required Boeing to demonstrate that [the batteries] design had a way to ‘prevent overheating or overcharging of lithium ion batteries’ even if the automatic disconnect system malfunctioned or failed” (Koh, Ostrower and Pasztor). The Wall Street Journal fingers the FAA for the Dreamliner problems because they believe it was their job to ensure that Boeing had the proper systems in place in case of a failure or malfunction as they gave the final approval. However, the Wall Street Journal makes it sound like that the FAA did not check the battery systems to ensure they were up to regulation.
In the article, “Boeing Defends 787 Strongly” that was published on March 15, 2013, the journalists explain that Mike Sinnett, the 787’s chief engineer, said, ‘“thousands upon thousands of planes’ have experienced battery malfunctions, and many of those result ‘in smoke and fire events’” (Pasztor and Ostrower). By including this quote, the Wall Street Journal makes it sound like these problems occur frequently and Boeing is not to blame. By quoting the chief engineer of the 787 program about the frequency of battery problems, the Wall Street Journal uses his credentials to their advantage to call out the FAA as they are making the battery problems appear a bigger deal than they are. However, the Seattle Times and the BBC do not mention what Sinnett said about the frequency of battery problems which allows them to hold Boeing responsible for the battery issues. Unlike the BBC and Seattle Times, the Wall Street Journal holds the FAA accountable for the battery problems as they gave the final approval, and they believe that the FAA has overestimated the seriousness of Dreamliner battery problems as these issues occur frequently.

The New York Times seems to hold the FAA responsible for the Dreamliner battery problems. In an article published on January 17, 2013, the New York Times mentions that “While the Federal Aviation Agency has recognized these hazards, it still decided in 2007 to allow Boeing to use them in the 787 as long as the company took a series of protective measures” (Drew, Mouawad, and Wald). The New York Times mentions that the FAA knew about the batteries hazards, but they certified the Dreamliner anyway. By including this, the New York Times blames the FAA for the battery problems because they could have stopped the use of lithium-ion batteries which would have prevented this nightmare for Boeing. Further, the New York Times points out that “At the time, the agency noted that ‘lithium ion batteries are significantly more susceptible to internal failures that can lead to self-sustaining increases in temperature and pressure’ than conventional batteries” (Drew, Mouawad, and Wald). By pointing out that the FAA noted that the lithium-ion batteries are more hazardous, the New York Times strengthens their argument that the FAA is to blame for the battery problems.

The New York Times leads us to believe that the FAA could have prevented the use of the lithium-ion batteries, but they did not prevent Boeing form doing so. After the January 7th battery incident in Boston, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) started investigating the 787 batteries to find the root of the issues. The chairwoman of the NTSB, Deborah Hersman, said “that before the FAA certified the batteries, Boeing’s tests found no evidence that a short circuit in one of the eight cells could spread to other cells” (Drew and Mouawad). By mentioning her quote, the New York Times shows blame for the FAA because people may start to question if the FAA skipped a step during the certification. As a leader the Dreamliner battery investigation, she has access to the data about the certification process which helps the New York Times blame the FAA skipping a step during the certification process or not scrutinizing Boeing’s data. The New York Times explains, “Ms. Hersman’s comments increase the pressure on the F.A.A. to be tougher on Boeing than it was before” (Drew and Mouawad).

The New York Times express that they believe the FAA was not strict on Boeing when certifying the Dreamliner based on Hersman’s comments. By mentioning this, it sounds like the FAA did not do their job, and it helps the New York Times blame the FAA for the battery problems. The New York Times believes that the FAA is at fault for the Dreamliner battery problems because the FAA knew the hazards of using lithium-ion batteries and that the chairwoman of the NTSB does not think the FAA was as tough on Boeing as they should have been.

Boeing has been put in a tough place due to the Dreamliner battery problems which caused a global grounding of the Dreamliner fleet. They are losing enormous amounts of money each day as they look for a fix to the battery issues while their customers are trying to maintain normal operations without their newly acquired Dreamliners. Yet, their customers have had to cancel hundreds of flights and operate older, less fuel efficient, aircraft to maintain normal operations. While the media covering the Dreamliner saga may seem objective, they do tend to pick a side. The Seattle Times and the BBC both seem to hold Boeing more responsible for the Dreamliner battery issues, and the Seattle Times believes that Boeing is downplaying the seriousness of the battery problems. However, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ultimately cast the FAA as accountable to properly certify the Dreamliner, believing it was the FAA’s job to prevent Boeing from using the lithium-ion batteries as the FAA knew they were hazardous. Even as the 787 likely takes to the skies soon and this story departs the mainstream press, there will be plenty of discussions of accountability behind-the-scenes.

Works Cited

“Boeing ‘set to Offer Plan to Fix Dreamliner Battery.” BBC News. British Broadcasting   Corporation, 22 February 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

“Dreamliner: Japan’s ANA Cancels More Boeing 787 Flights.” BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 25 February 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

Drew, Christopher and Jad Mouawad. “U.S. Official Faults F.A.A. for Missing 787 Battery Risk.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 7 February 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

Drew, Christopher, Jad Mouawad, and Matthew L. Wald. “Regulators Around the Globe Ground Boeing 787s.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 January 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

Gates, Dominic. “At Boeing, Pushback on 787 Grounding.” The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 20 January 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

Gates, Dominic. “Boeing: ‘No fire is Possible’ with 787 Battery Fix.” The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 16 March 2013. Web. 16 March 2013.

Ostrower, Jon, Andy Pasztor, and Yoree Koh. “All Boeing Dreamliners are Grounded World-Wide.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 17 January 2013. Web. 19 March 2013

Pasztor, Andy and Jon Ostrower. “Boeing Defends 787 Strongly.” The Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal, 15 March 2013. Web. 19 March 2013

Song, Kyung M. “FAA Faulted for Outsourcing 787 Safety Checks to Boeing.” The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 05 February 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

Wingfield-Hayes, Rupert. “Dreamliners: Boeing 787 Planes Grounded on Safety Fears.” BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation, 17 January 2013. Web. 13 March 2013.

Comments
0

About Author

Jack Harty

Jack Harty

Related Articles

Current Issue

Cart

Subscribe to our weekly Newsletter

Polls

Would you feel safe flying on a Boeing 737 MAX once the grounding is lifted?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

@airwaysmagazine

Airways YouTube Channel

Polls

Would you feel safe flying on a Boeing 737 MAX once the grounding is lifted?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
0