In a new Al Jazeera documentary, “Broken Dreams: Boeing 787,” the news organisation’s investigative unit goes behind the scenes of Boeing’s manufacturing operations and makes some serious allegations about the company and its 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
In the report, which aired this week on Al Jazeera America, anonymous Boeing employees called into question Boeing’s quality control standards, and claimed that workers in one of Boeing’s plants used illegal drugs. The report, hosted by Al Jazeera’s Will Jordan, is the culmination of a yearlong investigation of the American aviation giant.
Boeing immediately disputed the accuracy of the documentary.
In statement to Business Insider, Boeing said, “We have not been afforded the opportunity to view the full program, but the promotional trailer and published media reviews suggest that what has been produced is as biased a production as we have seen in some time.”
One particularly controversial portion of the documentary centres on operations at Boeing’s North Charleston assembly plant in South Carolina. At the core of this segment is the testimony of an employee at the facility, which was built specifically to construct the Dreamliner, a midsize widebody aircraft that has experienced a troubled rollout, including battery fires that at one point grounded the entire fleet.
In the report, the worker tells Jordan that 90% of problems concerning the Dreamliner are swept under the rug.
Using a hidden camera, that Boeing worker sought opinions within the North Charleston facility on the plant’s operations and the Dreamliner from fellow workers. When asked whether they would fly on a 787 Dreamliner, the responses from people building the plane were disturbing.
In response, Boeing said, “This specious production appears to have ignored the factual information provided by Boeing and instead based the majority of its reporting on unnamed sources pursuing their own agendas and a disgruntled former employee engaged in a legal dispute with Boeing.”
That legal dispute involves a former Boeing South Carolina engineer who claims he was dismissed from the company after reporting that damaged and improperly repaired parts were being installed on production Dreamliners.
There’s no question that the documentary adopts a sensationalistic angle — something that’s raised objections among aviation experts.
In a review published on Forbes, aviation analyst Vinay Bhaskara writes that “despite its hype, Al-Jazeera’s report falls substantially short on substance, too often falling into a slanted and biased presentation that leaves the piece wanting for objectivity and substance.”
With such a small sample size of employees and mostly anecdotal evidence, it’s easy to ask how much substantive value the documentary has.
However, the Dreamliner’s path to the skies has so far been anything but smooth. Boeing has had issues with everything from the 787’s engines and lithium-ion batteries to its software, and these myriad problems have caused lengthy delays for customers and scepticism about the plane’s future.
Here’s Boeing complete statement on the documentary:
We have not been afforded the opportunity to view the full program, but the promotional trailer and published media reviews suggest that what has been produced is as biased a production as we have seen in some time. It is unfortunate that the producers of this television program appear to have fallen into the trap of distorting facts, relying on claims rejected by courts of law, breathlessly rehashing as “news” stories that have been covered exhaustively in the past and relying on anonymous sources who appear intent only on harming The Boeing Company.
When first contacted by the producers, we accommodated them in order for them to produce a fair and objective report including facilitating factory access, interviews and providing full and open responses to their questions. The 787 is an outstanding aeroplane delivering value to our customers, but we have also talked candidly in public about its challenging development process. There are no tougher critics about our early performance than Boeing. Unfortunately, the reporting team appears to have chosen to take advantage of our trust and openness and abused their position from the outset by deliberately misrepresenting the purpose, objective and scope of their planned coverage.
This specious production appears to have ignored the factual information provided by Boeing and instead based the majority of its reporting on unnamed sources pursuing their own agendas and a disgruntled former employee engaged in a legal dispute with Boeing. In one instance, the producers resorted to ambush tactics normally seen only in tabloid-style TV news. The anonymous sources the TV program depends on are clearly working with those who seek to harm Boeing and its workers. They appear to have no real interest in truth, safety or better informing the public.
Even on-the-record sources seem to have changed their stories for the producers. For example, former Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) President Cynthia Cole said this about the 787’s first flight in 2009: “Today’s flight is a testament to the skill, hard work and diligence Boeing employees put in to get this aeroplane ready to fly,” SPEEA President Cynthia Cole said in a news release. “Boeing returned to engineering, and that’s what made today possible and successful.” Now, she states in the documentary trailer that Boeing “shortchanged the engineering process.”
Instead of an objective view of the 787’s development, viewers and our employees will see a television program that is neither balanced nor accurate in its portrayal of the aeroplane, our employees, or our suppliers. This program and those involved with it do a disservice to the hard-working men and women of Boeing and our supplier partners who designed and build the 787.
Furthermore, the program presents a false impression of Boeing South Carolina and the quality of work performed there. Aeroplanes, whether delivered from South Carolina or Washington, meet the highest safety and quality standards that are verified through robust test, verification and inspection processes. Our data of the current 787 fleet in service show parity in the quality and performance of aeroplanes manufactured in both locations.
And here’s a short clip from the hour-long documentary, which available on Al Jazeera’s website.
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