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Qatar Airways CEO Calls Al Jazeerah 787 Dreamliner Documentary “Over Sensationalised”

Speaking to the Press during the delivery of its new A380 aircraft, Qatar Airways CEO, His Excellency, Akbar Al Baker, referred to the Al Jazeerah 787 Dreamliner documentary as “over sensationalised,” when asked to comment by a Bloomberg reporter.

While Mr. Al Baker was loathe to discuss the topic in depth at the time, and said he preferred to hold a more detailed discussion on “neutral territory” in Doha, not at a competitor’s facility, the airline’s CEO did make time to address the matter and emphasise that Qatar Airways takes safety concerns very seriously.  “Sometimes disgruntled employees say something that is not correct,” he cautioned, in the context of the documentary’s controversial sources.

The Al Jazeerah documentary exposes what would be, if corroborated, some damnable violations of aviation standards and policies at the Boeing 787 Plant in South Carolina.   If they proved true, these allegations raise questions not only of what is happening at Boeing, but what is happening at the FAA.  The aircraft manufacturer has lashed back with strong statements accusing the news organisation of failing to present a balanced story, failing to get its feedback, and using questionable anonymous sources.

The accusations surround the integrity of the aircraft’s development and ongoing manufacturing, including questions raised on Lithium-Ion testing and alleged drug use at the South Carolina facility where the aircraft undergoes final assembly.

You can watch the documentary in full here:

Mr. Al Baker is not alone in questioning whether the Al Jazeerah documentary constitutes balanced reporting.

In its sole statement released on the matter, Boeing indicates:

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 airplane 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.”

Established Industry experts, like Scott Hamilton, who keeps us updated on the latest news from the airframe manufacturers on the Leeham News site, have also raised questions on the Al Jazeerah reports.  In a post this week, Hamilton told readers the network had cancelled plans for a panel discussion on the Boeing matter, in which Hamilton had been invited to participate, because Al Jazeerah English’s news director “concluded there had been enough coverage of the Boeing story and decided to move on.”

Hamilton said in his updated post this week on the documentary:

I am not suggesting that legitimate issues should not be raised, particularly when they involve safety generally and proper assembly of the 787. However, as I noted in my review, the 787 AJE “documentary” had little new news, seemed more interested in dramatics and engaged in deception and an ambush.

One TV reporter I spoke with afterwards, who agrees the “documentary” was poorly constructed, nonetheless had criticism of Boeing’s handling of it, calling the on-camera termination of the interview with 787 program VP Larry Loftis a poor choice that left a bad impression of Boeing; and that in his view, in all likelihood Loftis had not been adequately briefed by Boeing’s communications team about the possibilities of being faced with embarrassing allegations as a contingency.

Having viewed the report in its entirety, and even recently questioning the process of approval for the Dreamliner’s Lithium-Ion batteries, I can only say that I was surprised to find Al Jazeerah focused so much on allegations from anonymous sources, and questionable recordings at the South Carolina facility of employees who claim the Drug Testing program is not enforced.  The FAA’s Drug Testing program standards are strict, and it is the obligation of workers in the industry, not only to adhere to these requirements, but also to report any knowledge they have of breaches.  This reporting should not be carried out solely on news networks–it should be taken to the FAA responsible MIDO official and auditors.

Additionally, the report raises doubts about the reliability of the FAA’s whistleblower program, which provides industry members protection for reporting improper activities and safety concerns. That Mary Schiavo, who has held a number of public offices including as Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1990-1996 and a DOT Special Agent OO1, from 1990-1996 appears in the documentary stating that she cautions clients to become whistleblowers only if they are able support themselves indefinitely is unconscionable.  If it is true that the FAA’s whistleblower program is so unreliable, certainly Schiavo is one of the few people with the power and connections it takes to call the FAA out directly on this critical failure of the system–not just leaving expressing these concerns for on-camera appearances.

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