Problems with an electrical battery and fuel leaks are just some of the issues that have plagued the much-hyped Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft in recent months. The problems culminated in last week's grounding by US regulators of the entire fleet, currently used by eight airlines, after a Dreamliner owned by All Nippon Airways was forced to make an emergency landing in Japan.
The US aerospace corporation's flagship aircraft, hailed as the future of aviation with its cutting-edge technology, was launched just over a year ago, nearly three years behind schedule.
It is the first mid-sized, long-range aircraft, meaning it can fly distances usually reserved for the biggest planes, enabling airlines to open up routes where they do not have sufficient passenger numbers to justify the use of a bigger plane such as a Boeing 747 or Airbus A380.
However, mounting safety concerns have quickly overshadowed these innovations. Boeing's order book is also likely to be severely affected. It currently has 800 of the aircraft scheduled for delivery over the next 10 years.
Boeing says it is 'working round the clock' to restore faith in the aircraft, but clearly faces an uphill struggle, having to convince international regulators, the public and major airlines that flights on the Dreamliner will be safe.
What can the brand do to restore its reputation and safety record? We asked Rachel Ramsay, head of marketing and fundraising at the Youth Hostel Association, who was previously head of international marketing at airline BMI, and Richard Exon, founder of Joint London, Air New Zealand's UK agency. Until last year, Exon was chief executive of RCKR/Y&R, where he led the Virgin Atlantic account.
$200m - Top list price for the Dreamliner 787-9
800 - Number of Dreamliners scheduled for delivery over the next 10 years
BRAND HEALTH CHECK DIAGNOSIS
RACHEL RAMSAY, Head of marketing and fundraising, Youth Hostel Association (and former head of marketing, BMI)
Boeing is in trouble. Its Dreamliner is the world's most advanced mid-size passenger aircraft. It is lightweight, quiet, comfortable, fuel-efficient and cost-effective. It can fly distances usually reserved for the big aircraft. It's the future of aviation. Nonethe-less, worries over faults and safety issues are a big problem for Boeing and the aviation industry as a whole.
The airline operators are losing money by the second and, even if they don't yet own Dreamliners, many have placed orders worth millions. Flying is safe, but when the public hears about faulty aircraft it worries, understandably. Because of Boeing, some people will stop flying, and that will affect every airline. Crisis management is a PR skill often forgotten until there's a crisis - and in the airline industry, crises are rarely small.
- Go public with the facts swiftly, explain what has happened and what will be done to fix it.
- If Boeing handles this crisis effectively and wins back trust, it will come out of it a stronger, more profitable company. If not, it could face a very uncertain future.
RICHARD EXON, Founder, Joint (and former chief executive of RKCR/Y&R, where he led the Virgin Atlantic account)
Boeing's problem cannot be overstated. Fifty Dreamliners have been grounded, the biggest such event for 30 years. Airlines are beginning to growl about compensation. As marketers, we tend to be optimists, looking for opportunity and advantage in even the darkest skies, but Boeing operates in a market where the bets are huge. Unlike, say, Cadbury or Toyota, brand bounce-backs in this sector are rarely swift.
On the upside, though, the Dreamliner is literally and figuratively too big to fail. The airlines have so much invested in this generation of aircraft that they will afford as much leeway as they can while Boeing sorts it out.
- It will take steely-eyed missile men and bona fide rocket scientists to solve the real problem, but there's still plenty that Boeing's brand and reputation engineers can achieve.
- Clear, disciplined communication of exactly what's happening will buy all-important time.
- Achieve new heights of transparency and proactivity, demonstrating to regulators, media and consumers that this problem is fixable.