Al Jazeera Investigates: Their Hatchet Job on the Boeing 787

Al Jazeera aired a take down of the Boeing 787 — arguing that standards were altered to speed up production, and that this compromised safety.

The piece strikes me as sensationalist tabloid journalism. I don’t see the benefit to Boeing to push out an aircraft that compromises safety. And clearly the airlines flying the aircraft every day are confident in its safety. It’s an impressive aircraft.

While I think the Al Jazeera show is unfair to say the least, and includes a ton of non-sequiturs like somehow working with partner companies to share the cost of production and develop different elements of the aircraft (this is also called ‘division of labor’) as though this inherently leads to less quality — as opposed to relying only on one’s own more limited expertise — it’s a show worth watching. And the next time something does happen with this aircraft, this show’s reporting will be exhibit one, fair or not.

They throw a ton at the wall to see what sticks, criticizing the project for its delays, when it’s precisely the two years of delays for the 787 project that demonstrate a commitment to quality.

The piece is at its absolute weakest when it’s postulating that the McDonnell Douglas merger led to a corporate culture shift at Boeing which scaled back on research and quality.

The piece is about 45 minutes, so set aside some time (or fast forward as appropriate). If you want to see disgruntled ex-employees and gotcha surprise interviews, forge on…


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. McDonnell Douglas, fyi, not McDonald Douglas. Creators of some of the greatest warplanes ever built (Harrier, F-15, F-18).

  2. Not that I would give Al-Jazeera any credibility at all, but I don’t think you can blow it off as there is no benefit to Boeing to shortcut quality. Look at the Challenger disaster and Morton Thiokol, or the Chrysler ignition problem.

  3. Well no doubt quality was compromised when they merged with a company headed up by a creepy red headed clown whose only expertise is scaring kids and making crappy burgers ; )

  4. All-Jihadi producing “sensationalist tabloid journalism” you say? I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

    As for setting aside 45 minutes to “see disgruntled ex-employees and gotcha surprise interviews” from a Middle Eastern propaganda outfit, I’ve put it on my calendar. Next Feb 31st…. 🙂

  5. While Al-Jazeera has plenty of issues…. Lets be honest, no U.S. news program would dare to investigate/air something like this out of fear from alienating Boing/big business/FAA etc…

    They didn’t make up Boeing memos. They didn’t make up the numerous delays. They didn’t make up the FIRES. They didn’t make up that the FAA regulator who was supposed to regulate the 787 is now employed by the industry. They didn’t make up that Boeing opened up the second plant to retaliate against their unions.

    For me the most interesting claim, which Boeing denies, is that there is a 787 customer who REFUSES aircraft made in South Carolina.

    HERE IS A CHALLENGE: Check each operator of the 787 and see which 787’s they have (reg numbers) and then use those reg numbers to see WHERE each 787 is made. If there are any operators that ONLY have Washington made 787’s that would be very telling!

  6. @Chip I don’t think you can point the blame for Challenger at Boeing.

    From Wikipedia:

    “The Rogers Commission found NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making processes had been key contributing factors to the accident. NASA managers had known contractor Morton Thiokol’s design of the SRBs contained a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings since 1977, but failed to address it properly. They also disregarded warnings (an example of “go fever”) from engineers about the dangers of launching posed by the low temperatures of that morning and failed to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors.

    What Rogers did not highlight was that the vehicle was never certified to operate in temperatures that low. The O-rings, as well as many other critical components, had no test data to support any expectation of a successful launch in such conditions. Bob Ebeling from Thiokol delivered a biting analysis: “We’re only qualified to 40 degrees …’what business does anyone even have thinking about 18 degrees, we’re in no man’s land.'”

  7. @Robert Hanson

    “All-Jihadi producing “sensationalist tabloid journalism” you say? ”

    Bless your heart for writing that without noticing the irony.

    “1 + 2 = 3” is a true statement no matter WHO says it….

  8. @Atif ” All-Jihadi producing “sensationalist tabloid journalism” you say?”

    No, I didn’t actually say that. That is a quote from the second sentence of Gary’s post. I was simply commenting on what Gary had written.

    Gary’s point, of course, is that the piece is not in any sense “true”. And most certainly not “true” in a mathematical sense. That’s why he called it a “hatchet job”.

    All-Jihadi is not an independent news organization designed to present objective reporting.

    From Wikipedia: AJ “is a Doha-based broadcaster owned by the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is funded by the House of Thani, the ruling family of Qatar….Al Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar…The network has also been accused of being pro-American”.

    In other words, a propaganda organ for the Government, ie the ruling Family, of Qatar. Sort of an Arabic Pravda….

  9. “They didn’t make up that Boeing opened up the second plant to retaliate against their unions.”

    Nonsense, Boeing opened up the second plant because they needed the production capability of a second plant.

    Ironic that people complain about “delays”, yet criticize Boeing for wanting to build a plant in a place not plagued by strikes.

    The unions well know that they have a stranglehold on Boeing thru their ability to delay construction to the point that potential sales go to Airbus instead.

    I wouldn’t call wanting to build a plant elsewhere than union dominated Washington State “retaliation”. I’d call it good business planning. It’s not as though Boeing was going to pay sub-standard wages. They just wanted to be able to assure production schedules without worrying about union obstruction.

  10. QR’s CEO has issues with Airbus (A380 fiasco), and Qatar’s propaganda arm has issues with Boeing

    I guess Qatar can start building their own planes, since they don’t trust anyone else.

  11. Boeing definitely had a cultural shift as a result of the MD acquisition. And those changes even showed up in how Boeing did business with our government.

  12. Al-Jazeera is more American today than it has ever been before, at least counting by how much office space they are leasing/buying in the US.

    If you have an issue with Al-Jazeera English broadcasts, check out the hot news channel in a lot of a European hotels: RT. It’s almost a perfect counterpart for Fox News, except its version of jingoism is less noisily brazen than Fox News Channel.

  13. The level of ignorance in the comments is astounding. There’s lots to be said about just how more legitimate Al Jazeera is than most other American cable news channels (though don’t expect the typical American/commenter to look past it’s foreign, scary and obviously terrorist name), but that aside, what possible interest would the Qatari government have in harming Boeing’s reputation?

    Also, Gary, you present an opinion based solely on the tone of the documentary, and yet offer absolutely no refutation of any facts presented in the documentary. On what exactly do you base your opinion that two year delays means a commitment to quality (versus, say terrible mismanagement)? What study do you not mention says working with partners does or does not compromise safety?

    Your usage of “hatchet job” is quite ironic.

  14. @Hayden I shared this precisely because I think it’s important! The tone is absolutely one of a hatchet job, I do not claim to know the ins and outs of the program’s development, but the failure of the piece to address the broad issues I raise suggests it’s not trying to be even-handed and get to truth as much as pursue an agenda. Which doesn’t in and of itself make it wrong.

  15. My dad was a stress engineer for Boeing for roughly 25 years (now retired) working on the 737, 747, and 777 (maybe others). He’s still a huge Boeing fan and owns Boeing stock, but he has issues with both the design of the 787 (composite materials) and the way in which that design was carried out (outsourcing of a lot of the design). I haven’t watched the documentary yet, but it sounds like they bring up a lot of those issues. I’ll be interested to watch it and then get his take on it.

  16. My understanding is that LH stations full time employees on site to supervise their aircraft being assembled. You can bet that any snafu that might cause a serious risk will have that assembly or part put on another frame.
    The above does not rule out design issues.

  17. I watched it by chance, flipping channels, and was embarrassed for the network. It was definitely poor journalism. Just AWFUL journalism in a sort of Michael Jackson-esque docu-BS story quality.
    At least they didn’t show any Boeing engineers climbing into trees.

  18. gary, thanks for sharing cause I would prolly not have come across this documentary otherwise. anyways gotta agree with hayden here, so much ignorance in the comments section and wholeheartedly disagree with your analysis gary that this was a ‘hatchet job.’

    regardless of it being sensationalist — btw how exactly would that be? higher ratings? higher ad revenues? oh wait, they’re owned by the qatari royal fam, so why would they care about any of that? … you guys cant have it both ways. not to mention, considering the US military bases in qatar, the pro-american stance of the qatari govt and the pro-american nature of AJ — it’s preposterous to clothesline the channel or this documentary in particular as mere propaganda.

    all they’re saying is they want boeing to make safe planes — what’s wrong in that? how retarded do you have to be to be AGAINST common sense journalism. AJ found serious issues, they highlighted em.

    robert, I dont know you but based on your comments I gotta say bud you’re way too naive or just happy being stupid if you believe any of the BS you wrote. either that or you have no idea how the real world works. protip: read richard wolff’s book capitalism hits the fan for an explanation of what’s actually been going on in america over the last 30-40 yrs, especially with regards to our manufacturing base. hint: much like at banks that handed out liar loans (which they knew about) while the executives got huge bonuses & golden parachutes (even if the bank failed) that lead to the financial crisis, the best interests of a company and its (temporary) executives are not always aligned. they will boast to wall street about how 787 has record sales, they dont give a shit if 10-15-20 yrs down the line due to shitty engr/build quality the planes start crashing and boeing’s rep is tarnished — nope, they will be long gone, with their millions.

    thtat’s exactly what happened with chrysler, chevy/GM that has lead to all the recalls recently. why? because GM for example decided to become a finance company starting in the 80s and stopped paying attention to quality. they realized they could make more money from their GM finance wing then they ever could just selling cars. as a result most of their focus turned to how to sign up consumers for loans or GM credit cards etc. this vid gives a good overview: http://youtu.be/TZU3wfjtIJY?t=7m19s

  19. Sounds like this blog is written by a Boeing employee. They label the AJ news piece as a hatchet job yet the blog contains nothing but biased opinions.

    All companies struggle to keep big projects on schedule and often release products before they are ready. This is more true after a project has been delayed two years. The difference with an airplane manufacturer is that lack of adequate QC can be deadly rather than annoying.

    The 787 has had more than it’s fair share of incidents, the fleet has been grounded. This has tarnished Boeing and the 787’s far more than an AJ piece. I’m not sure if this is “commitment to quality” the blogger is referring to.

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