777 engine explosion puts Boeing’s reputation on the line again

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Boeing has a great deal of experience in crisis situations over the past few years.

Only three months ago, Boeing put the 737 MAX back into service. The planes had been grounded for two years following the crash of two planes which left 346 dead. Then, last Saturday, an engine of a United 777 exploded over Denver, raining debris on a neighborhood below.

Airlines in the United States, Japan and South Korea have already grounded dozens of 777s, and the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered United to increase its inspections of all those planes.

Boeing statement

Yesterday, Boeing posted the following statement on its website: “Boeing is actively monitoring recent events related to United Airlines Flight 328. While the NTSB investigation is ongoing, we have recommended that the operation of the 69,777 in service and 59 in storage powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines be suspended until the FAA identifies the appropriate inspection protocol. .

“Boeing supports the decision of the Civil Aviation Bureau of Japan yesterday and the FAA’s action today to suspend the operations of 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines. We work with these regulators as they take action while these planes are on the ground and other inspections are carried out by Pratt & Whitney. Updates will be provided as more information becomes available. “

Bad timing

While there is never a right time to have a crisis, the time of a crisis can certainly make things worse for businesses and organizations.

Caroline Sapriel is the managing partner of the crisis management company CS&A International. She noted that “this is a bad time for Boeing and inevitably parallels [with past crashes] will be done….[the company’s] reputation is at stake.

“At least here they had an immediate response, advised grounding 128,777 powered by this particular type of motor and appeared more in tune with [the] FAA … ”

The fact that the engine that collapsed in mid-flight was made by another company could prove to be a silver lining in the crisis for Boeing.

Fast action

Speed ​​is essential in responding to any crisis situation, especially when lives may be on the line.

She observed that “… Boeing’s rapid response looks better, but now the real test is to actively seek to speed up the proper test and investigation protocols and avoid blaming the engine manufacturer, who is also a partner in the industry. long term. “

Airlines and aviation authorities “have been extremely quick to take action to protect stakeholder confidence and Boeing should continue to align with them to maintain their confidence. They will walk a tightrope and be under the microscope, ”Sapriel said.

A pilot’s point of view

David Nolletti is a professional pilot with several jet-type ratings and over 3000 hours of flight time. He is currently Managing Director at Conway MacKenzie and leads the aerospace, defense and government services practice.

By the numbers

According to Nolletti, the United Airlines Boeing 777 that suffered the in-flight engine failure was powered by Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines that entered service in 1987. “Over the next 33 years of service, Pratt & Whitney delivered over from 2,500 engines to 70 different operators and accumulated more than 135 million flight hours, ”he said.

Safe and proven design

“This is a safe and proven engine design,” observed Nolletti, “but I think Boeing reacted quickly to ensure that the flying public saw them react eagerly to a potentially dangerous situation and I think travelers will be comforted by the speed and determination of the grounding.

Recomendations

Nolletti said Boeing and Pratt & Whitney should:

  • Partner to communicate this program’s safety statistics to the public to ensure the consumer knows this is a proven, long-lasting design with an excellent safety record. Essentially, that this is an isolated incident and that the investigation will determine, in due course, why this engine suffered an apparent fan blade failure.
  • Point out that the motor contained the apparent failure of the fan blades, as it is designed to do. By containing the failed blade, the engine cowl prevented more serious damage to the aircraft (e.g. flight controls, hydraulic systems, fuel systems, etc.) or damage to passengers and crew of the aircraft. airplane.

Final result

“In short, it could have been a much more dangerous situation, but the rugged design of the aircraft and engine coupled with the training of the crew made it relatively trouble-free,” Nolletti concluded.

The importance of scenario training

Practicing responses to various crisis scenarios is an important way to ensure that businesses are as prepared as possible for a crisis and will respond strategically and effectively when a crisis does arise.

The NTSB’s findings on the two fatal 737 MAX crashes, “… highlighted both technological vulnerability and inadequate training of pilots in stress scenarios to mitigate this vulnerability,” recalled Jayson Kratoville, director acting from the National Center for Security & Preparation at the University of Albany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity.

He said: “Although we would have to wait for more information about the 777’s engine failure to draw any conclusions, it is likely that good stress scenario training helped prevent loss of life. Both are important examples of how manufacturers have a stake in product implementation and worst-case scenario training to mitigate risk. “

Investigation

Mark Dombroff is a partner at Fox Rothschild law firm and has over 30 years of experience in administrative, legislative, regulatory and legal aspects of the domestic and international aviation industry.

Pro-active approach

He noted that “the actions Boeing and others have taken regarding the 777s with Pratt & Whitney engines demonstrate a proactive approach to an event that is still under investigation. “

Dombroff observed that “the NTSB is responsible for investigating the event. Boeing, as well as Pratt & Whitney, United and [the] The FAA will be a party to the investigation. Parties to an investigation are not allowed … to conduct their own investigations. The NTSB controls engine debris and the engine itself and, most likely, the aircraft itself, at least as long as the engine remains on the wing.

Early focus

“At this point,” he said, “we don’t know if the engine or something is the cause of what happened. What we do know is that the reporting is focused on the plane being a Boeing 777. Coupled with the attention already paid to Boeing due to the MAX, the spotlight on Boeing is brighter.

“That being said, there is some injustice associated with this since the investigation is at a preliminary stage and we don’t know why the fan blades (which allegedly failed) actually failed,” he said. .

Lessons learned – or to learn

Commercial aviation

Dombroff noted: “There are always lessons to be learned from any event like this. It is, however, too early to determine what these lessons may be here or to whom such lessons may apply.

He said: “Commercial aviation in the United States is a phenomenal safety activity. It never means we have achieved perfection. There is always room to make things safer and better, but it remains to be seen in this case, not only why what happened actually happened, but also what lessons the industry can learn from it. . “

Boeing

Jane Robbins, PhD, is a retired professor of entrepreneurship and organizations specializing in strategy and institutional integrity. She said: “It seems Boeing has already learned a lesson from the 737MAX debacle: don’t wait to be forced into action by the government: get ahead of the problem. But that’s not really the right lesson for leaders – it’s a reaction, and reacting to a preventable crisis is never good.

Business leaders

“Managers must learn that every business decision has substantial ethical content that cannot be treated in probabilistic terms; it can only be dealt with in an organizational way, through an operating philosophy and process designed to ensure institutional integrity, which “resolves” crises before they occur. What is at stake is reputation or trust, the ultimate form of capital. Once lost, it is extremely difficult to recover and can bring down a business.

“The organizational basis of disasters is pretty well known – think Challenger, the BP oil spill, etc. It was a virtual accident, ”she concluded.

All sectors

Joseph Smith is director of aviation services for the Cassel Salpeter investment bank. “The lesson for all industries where there is an inherent danger to consumers / end users (both products and services), is that safety must be the number one priority, the hard stop,” he said. -he declares.

“Safety precautions [for] your customers and [for] your employees (as we have all seen in particular during Covid) must be anchored in the fabric and the DNA of all the decisions made, whatever the costs or the unpopularity of the moment ”, he advised .

“The repercussions could be fatal and / or costly, both economically, reputational and moral, and can bring organizations down,” Smith said.

Advice to business leaders

Carla Bevins is Assistant Professor of Business Communication at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. Based on the latest crisis that hit Boeing, she gave the following advice to businesses and organizations.

Prepare in advance

  • Businesses need to have effective and up-to-date strategic solutions and crisis management plans to protect their reputation before a crisis hits.
  • Create crisis press release templates in advance, so you can implement them quickly when the crisis strikes. Don’t wait to create your key messages to be in the middle of the crisis.
  • Companies that think in terms of “when” and not “if” a crisis will strike are better placed to come out intact on the other side.

Speed ​​is essential

  • Speed ​​is absolutely essential in these situations, and the first well-designed response must be launched within an hour of the crisis being released.
  • It can be difficult to regain control of a situation if online and social media creates an alternate narrative to the one you want to share.
  • When there is a lack of information at the source, others will find information elsewhere and come to their own, often misinterpreted, conclusions.

Collaborate

  • Close collaboration between the communications team and the corporate legal team is required, as the company’s crisis management responses will be published simultaneously on traditional and social media.
  • Key spokespersons should be available for press conferences and media interviews.

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