Journalism's slow death
Holy Week

Ethics in flight

BoeingLMy editor once told me that anything with "ethics" in the title was destined for the remainder pile.

So I write this with some trepidation.

But reading the newspaper these days reminds me that, despite the backlash in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, common ethics doesn't seem to be that common in many companies.

Instead of asking "is this right or wrong," some companies seem to be asking "will this work?"

Example: following highly publicized battery problems in its 787 Dreamliner, Boeing seems to have moved into a "limit the damage" phase of its crisis management plan.

When lithium batteries burst into flame on several flights, Boeing was quick to halt deliveries of the new airplanes, saying any fire on an aircraft is a serious issue.

The company cooperated with invesitigations into the causes of the battery malfunctions and ultimately won approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on a plan to test and certify improvements to the 787’s battery system.

Meanwhile, the planes remain grounded and the company is subtly changing its public stance.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, in two recent press briefings senior Boeing managers downplatyed the battery problems.

The 787's chief engineer told reporters that "in the last 10 years, there have been thousands upon thousands" of battery malfunctions on commercial planes, making such events a reality of airline operations, adding that "many of them have resulted in smoke and fire."

Another veteran 787 engineer said fallout from battery failures "happens on our airplanes week in and week out."

In other words, batteries bursting into flame are no big deal. Get over it.

Apparently, the new tack stems from company research into peoples' attitudes toward the Dreamliner following heavy coverage of the battery fires.

Some industry experts warn that the strategy is dangerous, especially if another fire breaks out. Others say that the public has a short memory and this too shall pass.

But the real question Boeing should be asking isn't whether or not this Redemption Startegy will work.  The real question is whether or not it's right.

Is it designed to give people the information they need to make an intelligent decision about flying on a Dreamliner?  Or is it designed to minimize the chance that they'll even ask the question?




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