Heard it through the grapevine

As we get closer to the first flight of the 787 Dreamliner, clearly there’s going to be more and more focus on day-to-day, if not minute-to-minute progress. It’s the first new airplane program where we’ve seen the full effects of “new media” or “social media” coverage.

Forums and sites are proliferating - ranging from fan and hobbyist pages to journalist blogs and everything in between – chronicling even the most obscure details gleaned from “sources.”

Web sites and blogs focused on commercial aviation are nothing new. We’ve been discussing commercial aviation through this blog for more than four years now. There are many experienced industry writers, journalists, and analysts who provide pertinent commentary through Web sites and other media. They add to the discourse and make the industry all the more interesting and exciting.

The challenge is distinguishing those sources and pages from the various blogs, Twitters and other sites which sometimes position themselves as authoritative – but really are not.

Even the most informed outsiders frequently lack comprehensive and direct knowledge of what’s happening at Boeing - including about our development programs, the 787 and 747-8.

Unfortunately, the seemingly insatiable appetite for any information about those programs has given rise to Web postings and social media sites that distribute rumors or details without ample – or sometimes any – of the context that would aid understanding of what’s really going on. Some of these sites use official sounding titles and designs in an attempt to enhance their credibility.

We’ve seen many examples of “exclusive” postings claiming to have just heard certain information from “sources.” These reports often claim to have inside information about our production plans or progress, orders, deliveries, cancellations, or development program milestones - that often turn out to be incorrect.

Airplane development programs are inherently complicated. What may seem like a major issue today is often fully resolved by tomorrow. Without the context that often can come only from a comprehensive program or company view, incorrect or incomplete information can be circulated as conclusion and fact when it is not. That helps nobody.

That’s why Boeing strives to communicate to the public when we’ve analyzed our data and reached truly informed conclusions, so we can provide definitive explanations of what’s happening. By the way, we’re also governed by securities laws and regulations that dictate how we disclose significant events.

So a bit of a “buyer beware” is in order. Shop carefully when it comes to the information you consume on the Web. Especially when that information has not come from a truly authoritative source.

Comments (19)

Phil (Wokingham (UK)):

Hoorah Randy, for laying bare & exposing the raft of information provided by self proclaimed experts.

Wishing you & your colleagues well with the tight & challenging flight test programme.

Scott (San Francisco, CA):

Randy, I believe the upswing in blog style reporting and rumors mills about Boeing programs can easily be attributed to Boeing's poor communication track record. The public (right or wrong) has come to believe that Boeing communication is purely marketing driven and not always based in fact.

It's unfortunate but true that the 787 program has gone a long way to add to this skepticism and frankly, until Boeing chooses to be more upfront about the health and progress of certain programs, the need and desire for tangible news will continue to grow.

Rebecca Vanderbilt (Santa Clara, CA):

This is an interesting time when it comes to information dissemination. There are a lot of Boeing supporters who are very interested in the 787 development and hope the development would finally come to fruition soon.

Therefore, it's really a question on how Boeing wants to embrace the next generation media. I'm sure there are many bright people internally at Boeing who have struggled to understand this new media phenomenal.

But this is a chance for Boeing to capture the imagination of your next generation workers. According to analysts reports, the Boeing (aerospace) workforce is getting old and younger workers are fleeing to other exciting technology companies in the region.

If Boeing intends to attracts these highly skilled and talented engineers, it needs to find ways to reach out. Including using the social media to work to its benefits.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

This post has a good point, especially with regards new programs. Or any other program. Generally, I can't find a decent site that compares a 777-300ER to an A340-600. It's always -300ER vs. A340-500 or some other odd thing. Where such sites do get it right, the information is outdated.

I think there are many of us who want to know what's happening with the performance of the 747-8, but the truth is a similar number of us don't know everything about the A380-800 yet, like we know the 747-400. And when we go onto Airbus, the A380 data doesn't add-up like Airbus says it should anyways. But some people seem content with what they got - which can only mean that the Airbus data is propriety - and Airbus is not yet ready to let Boeing better position the 747-8.

This is why this blog, and the Boeing Company site are my primary sources for specific information relating to Boeing planes. Of course, the information only stays with me with flight test data - that's what counts. But other sites are great for getting an understanding for how the industry works.

Good luck with the 787 testing. And publish what you can here!

martin nix:

I honestly believe Boeing is making a mistake in building a "replacement for the 737"..how can you surpass on perfection! What the company needs to do is develop a 50 passenger (range) aircraft, that is long range (12,000 miles), capable of flying higher than other jets (over 50,000 feet), uses environmentally clean fuel (biojet), and flys faster.

This would target untra-thin routes (ie. Albuquerque to South Africa), and would open up a new set of routes. Historically, Boeing hasn't done well in the under 100 passenger jet market, due to large competition (Dehaviland, Embarer, etc), but if we can design a jet that is cheaper, better, faster, cleaner, higher flying, etc...it would be worth the investment. We need to consider a smaller 50 passenger range jet before considering replacing the 737.

Jerry ( New York):

I have to agree with Scott of San Francisco that many of us interested in the progress of the 787 have not been satisfied by Boeing's information or conference calls regarding the progress of the endeavor.

It is understandable given the legal inhibitions and restrictions that you as a public company face. So an industry has flourished to fill in the gap and there are several "bloggers" who have been very helpful in describing and clarifying what is happening and the steps in front of each test.

Boeing originally promised transparency throughout the stages of development but that was ended quite a while ago and several members of the team were not heard from on the periodic basis that was expected.

Credit has to be given to several Bloggers for what seems to be informed information and good judgement in presenting the ongoing situation.

Perhaps things will change now that the plane will enter the flightline any day and you have chosen to make a statement about the information and disinformation that is out there.

In these difficult times credibility has to be established and unfortunately, Boeing has suffered a lack of that during the past year.

We will count on the bloggers to keep us abreast but hope that you and the Company will make efforts to add to that flow of information.

Kinbin (Taipei, Taiwan):

I echo the views presented by Scott and Jerry at both sides of the continent.

The credibility of the news and developments disseminated by Boeing, especially on the 787, has to be re-built. Through no fault of you nor this blog, senior management has more often than not, painted a "sunshine" landscape on the 787 development to the media and the financial community, and then subsequently retract to the bullhorn of a CAT 5 'hurricane' upon them, confirming analyses made by industry amateurs.

If its gonna be late, then present it expediently as it is, with preliminary the mitigation plans.

Commitment to world class operations does not mean no glitches. Conversely, it is overwhelmed with 'opportunities', the Boeing production lingo. Just need to present them as they are, and no whitewashing. The stock price will take good care of itself.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

When times are tough and people are frustrated rumors can fly and much of it is wrong, much of the speculation on Airliners.net has been about if Delta Air Lines would pick up the orders from Northwest Airlines and if Boeing will launch the 747-8I passenger airliner.

I still remember the 797 BWB when someone said that Boeing would use the blended wing body as a challenger to the A380, it was quickly debunked and says so on Snopes.com. The design which is based on a real concept, span: 285" Length: 160", and carries 1,000 passengers actually comes from the McDonnell Douglas Phantom Works.

Speculation of Airliners.net about a "the" Yellowstone Y1 and Y3 as a successor to the 737 and 747 and even the 787-11 is still commonplace but in here people mostly have fun speculating about the design of future aircraft and debate how the aircraft should look like.

With all the bad news in the economy and airline industry, the best place to get the information of not from websites that fan speculation but from a company source like this website.

Dimitri Simos (UK):

More openness does expose you to biased, ignorant, or well-informed scrutiny. But with today's information flows it is likely to be the wiser long-term policy.

If I was betting person, I'd put money on the 787 rising above early difficulties and becoming one of the classics of aviation. Wishing you the very best of luck with first flight.

Alice (Huntsville):

We frequently see CEOs from other companies (GM/Ford/GE/MERCK) on the business news programs on TV "promoting" their organizations, why isn't Boeing managers on these "news/business/money" programs promoting Boeing and our processes and decision making and the affects that world events are having on our business?

We need to be more transparent in our business decisions, let the public know what we are trying to accomplish and perhaps polish our image a bit. We may get more people interested in purchasing our stock and help create a better image for ourselves with the media and general public.

Dan (Mesa, az):

So, when is it going to fly?

James Robinson (Long Beach California):

I honestly believe the early development of the 787 was very badly (not) managed by Boeing. I further believe the leadership of the program through the first few months after roll-out either intentionally mis-led the public about the status of the program, or they understood so little about the status of the program as to be grossly negligent.

Don't forget the summer of 2007 when the leader of the program said the airplane would make first flight on time. Well almost two years later the airplane still hasn't flown.

I think that whole episode both damaged the credibility of the official Boeing announcements and created a curiosity among the public about what is really going on with this program.

Clearly there are rules about who can say what when. But the current attention the 787 receives is the result of the decisions and comments the leadership of the 787 development team made in the past.

Nate (Seattle, WA):

I agree with Scott's comment above that Boeing does not do an adequate job communicating information effectively, opening itself up to rumor mills that can only be squashed with clean, fact-based information conveyed beautifully.

A great example is the 787's scheduling communications... a two year program slide does not happen one or two quarters at a time, it happens everyday, hour-by-hour. In today's world, people need up-to-the-minute information, not simple press-releases every quarter to six months.

Think of how much more respect we would have from our customers, suppliers, or shareholders if we were to give them transparent access to company scheduling information with a web-based, summarized performance metric system that allowed them to track our progress to plan. Unfortunately, I've noticed we don't often know the current state of the program inside the very program's four walls, so we have some work to do to take advantage of today's technology's ability to manage and convey complex situations in simplified formats for good decision making to all individuals involved on a project.

It's not that the technology doesn't exist, it's that Boeing leadership has not chosen to focus on developing a quality visual information system infrastructure to prove their politically-charged commentaries with data-driven fact-based displays. If it can be done in the world of financial accounting, it's time we applied it to Boeing's world of project scheduling and management.

P.Sumantri (France):

I agree with what Randy said.

First, ordinary people like us do not need detailed daily information about aircraft program development even if we are aviation enthusiast or even if it is about the 787. What we need is a clear announcement when a relatively important milestone is completed.

Second, we read many conflicting "informations" about the 787 out there. Of course, conflicting "informations" cannot be all correct.

Third, mishaps happen especially when you are trying new things.

When I was refurbishing my house, I had some mishaps too. For example it happened that a contractor installed the plasterboard before the wiring was completed. Just imagine the mess. But, that specific problem lasted only two days. In day three there was not any "wiring" problem anymore.

The "concept" was sound, the execution was not well orchestrated. Does my wife need to know that there has been a screwup about the wiring? No.

However, the works ended eight months behind schedule.

A problem that arises one day may disappear the next day. Many successive small problems can occur. You have to solve them and document them.
But hey! That's business as usual when you innovate.

http: //verovenia.wordpress.com

Nikolay (New York):

The Boeing does not provide enough information and complaining "social media" trying to fix it?

Well I would say it's completely Boeing's fault.
No day-by-day updates about current status, no changes on web sites (I'm tired of old photos and video on newairplane.com), no activity in media, no technical docs in public access are giving feeling nothing good is going on behind the walls.

From outside the Boeing looks like half-military organization but we're talking about commercial airplanes!

Chris C (South Africa):

This is an excellent article and really highlights the truth about what is out there in the blogosphere. There’s only a handful of reputable aviation websites remaining, I feel.

Many, many blogs/forums/sites out there in the Web, which focus on particularly the commercial airplane programs at Boeing and Airbus, resort to mud-flinging, low-intellectual, highly-emotional, childish and non-thought provoking comments.

There certainly seems to have been a “jumping on the band-wagon” effect over the past 4 years or so, and due to the nature of the internet, anyone can publish anything! And, what’s worse is, people lap it up. Sure, there are genuine sites out there, and they have accurate technical data and are well-researched, but many just try to “break news” stories, just for the sake of saying “exclusive”. I’d say that certain sites should rather run the title, “elusive” story.

Unfortunately, many people don’t grasp the concept on how complicated and technologically advanced any airplane program is. I’m flying airplanes that were built in the early 1970’s. How many of us are driving cars from the 1970’s as our primary means of transport?

An airplane is a phenomenal creation, and there’s always going to be problems in design and development. To speak candidly, both Boeing and Airbus (an all airplane manufacturers for that matter) build damn fine airplanes, period, and some people just need to cool it with running rumours, posting “exclusive source” material and thinking they know everything when they in fact don’t know anything and have only seen a fraction of the big picture.

As they say in the airline industry...if you haven’t heard a rumour in the first 5 minutes at work, then start one! That’s the same for these bloggers who have to write something everyday...just give it a break guys. Randy, keep up the good work.

Michelle (Seattle, WA):

I think the company is in a tough spot here. There is tremendous interest in this plane, from a professional standpoint (airlines), a scientific standpoint (new use of materials), and a patriotic standpoint (Made in the USA). At the same time, Boeing has a right and an obligation to limit the access to a lot the information on what makes this plane awesome.

No one expects Coke to give us a detailed rundown of how they developed Coke Zero. Has Lexus divulged how they made their "Pre-Collision" system?

I understand that people want to know, and the program should satisfy that need to whatever extent possible, which in many cases they have failed to do. The company's credibility has been compromised, which makes people even more eager to get to the "truth", from whatever source seems to provide it.

I think that if the company had been more open from the get go, it would actually be easier at this point to protect those trade secrets and export controlled technologies that really do need to be protected.

Chris C (South Africa):

I personally think that this article here: http://www.glgroup.com/News/Boeing-Slams-Armchair-Analysts--Keyboard-Crusaders-37905.html neatly supports this excellent blog entry. Doug McVitie, the author of this article, really has an excellent point-of-view.

We have too many uninformed, naive, and tabloid oriented bloggers roaming the Web out there, and all too often, they’re given far more credit than due.

Counterstriker (Dayton, Ohio):

"The supreme irony of the Information Age is that it gives new respectability to uninformed opinion.”

Spoken by a journalist (John Lawson, I believe) but it pretty much sums up what Randy's getting at, although I'd also argue that there's a fair amount of irony in criticizing bloggers through a blog.

The name of the game is credibility. Blogs and twitters are not a substitute for decent and accurate journalism, by reporters who are trained to put stories into context. If they were, then they'd no longer be simple blogs - they'd have evolved into reliable news outlets in their own right.

There's plenty of accurate and knowledgeable journalism out there, dear reader, but if you want to bypass that and head straight for a blog page to get your intelligence, without applying any critical analysis as to the credibility or motivations of the blogger (and that includes Randy himself, by the way) then you've only yourself to blame.

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