Al Jazeera dumps “Inside Story” look at 787 documentary

Update, Sept. 15, 12:20pm PDT: We got an email from Al Jazeera America Inside Story saying that Al Jazeera English Inside Story is the one that extended the invitation to appear, not Al Jazeera America Inside Story. If you all are confused, so was I. Apologies to AJA Inside Story.

Al Jazeera America English canceled its planned panel discussion of the documentary by sibling Al Jazeera English of the Boeing 787, aired last week to withering criticism by reviewers, including this column.

AJA’s AJE’s half hour discussion program, Inside Story, was to take a free-wheeling look at the documentary. I was invited, and accepted, a slot on the panel. Even after I pointed out my scathing review, AJA AJE assured me that I was still welcome.

The program was to air Sunday or Monday this week. I received notice in a 3am email Sunday (PDT) that the program had been canceled, although no reason why was given and none was provided when I asked.

I don’t know what the real intent of the program was, though I can guess. AJA AJE was trying to get the IAM and SPEEA unions as the other panel participants, so to me it smelled of validation of the documentary rather than an independent discussion. I have no way of knowing whether the unions accepted or declined and the program was canceled for lack of participants or whether it was canceled for other reasons.

Update, Sept. 15, 8:00 am PDT: AJA AJE says the news director concluded there had been enough coverage of the Boeing story and decided to move on.

However, I had my talking points ready. Here’s what I would have said had the program proceeded:

  • I would have synopsized the points from my review;
  • I would have pointed out that Al Jazeera is owned by the Qatari government and so is the flag carrier, Qatar Airways;
  • AJE did not disclose the family relationship;
  • Qatar Airways is already operating 15 787s and has some 35 more on order. Is AJE suggesting its sibling/cousin is operating an unsafe airplane?

If there was time, I also would have pointed out that AJE in 2010 did another expose (or documentary, if you will) on the Boeing 737. This begs the question what is going on with AJE and Boeing?

I also can’t help but wonder if there might be some deliberate effort to embarrass Boeing by AJE for reasons unknown.

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.

Regardless, nobody came out of this covered in glory.


32 Comments on “Al Jazeera dumps “Inside Story” look at 787 documentary

  1. In context of US native news reporting the percentage of agenda motivated documentaries is rather high “Deutungshoheit” . With that as a personal background I could understand taking AJA’s 787 documentary as “personal”.

    In context of mediascape elsewhere ( and out of reach of one Mr Murdoch ) i’d see it differently.
    Going through it looks like
    most subject provide a direct reason on their own to investigative poke into.

    To give substance to an allegation one imho would have to show the proper cui bono aspects. I miss them.

    • Unfortunately Mr Murdoch has had an irreversible influence on journalism, and most outlets have followed an “if you can’t beat them join them” strategy. One thing is sure though, dispatch reliability is still not where Boeing would like it to be on what is not a new program any more. Any chance some of that could be traced to poor moral on the shop floor?

  2. Playing the Devil’s advocate: AJA criticize of the 787 safety (true or untrue) although it its linked with Qatar (not the most freedom example country) and Qatar Airways which operate the 787 shows some journalistic courage, not putting the family interests ahead …

  3. Well, as long through your blog you’ve been critical enough of Al Jazeera to ensure your continued access and rapport with sources at Boeing, you should be fine. The rest of the world feels Boeing is overdue to a public shaming for their poor stewardship of the Boeing Company and their war on labor. While many of us know the story, we are rather pleased to see insulated executives respond in shock to the consensus view of their team’s performance.

    • This has nothing to do with our “access and rapport” with Boeing. Anyone who has read our posts knows well our criticisms of Boeing and our disdain for its war on the unions.

    • TO PROF, CEL

      CEL: Your remark regarding the :journalist courage” is pretty innocent, What we are seing here is a dirty war instigated by the competition, the extremists in the Unions on one side, the equally extremist leftists anti-union crowd by the other, all throwing old dirt and in this case, “motivating” somebody influential at AL JAZEERA, who seemed to ignore the relation of BOEING of their common owner Quatar Air with Boeing, not only B787-wise but by ordering 50 B777X in Dubai and a few weks ago, a commitment for 50 more in Farnborough

      And we should wonder why (as example) the sooo safety concerned AL JAZEERA was silent when in sucession Airbus’ A380s lost an Engine, cracks were discovered in the supercrtical supports od the enormous wings and now, the incorrect installation of the cabin doors!!

      No doubt Leehamnet and many bloggers, I included, much elaborated regarding the BOEING fracas of “global managing”.

      • Exept for the most partisan observers this may just be due to the difference in gravity of the bouquet of problems at either airframer ( or elsewhere in the industry ).
        For a start I would compare QF32 to the number of Genx engines that detached their rotating fan section.
        IMHO it took all the might of PR departments and the press to “level” that playing field between Boeing and Airbus problem wise.

        Then, you are pretty late to the fray, aren’t you?

      • “And we should wonder why (as example) the sooo safety concerned AL JAZEERA was silent when in sucession Airbus’ A380s lost an Engine, cracks were discovered in the supercrtical supports od the enormous wings and now, the incorrect installation of the cabin doors!!”

        Because….Airbus took ownership of these problems and started addressing them immediately instead of ignoring the problems for years while the issues metastasized. Additionally, none of these problems involved the generation of fire and smoke in the Aircraft – one of the most dangerous events that can happen while in flight. Nor do these problems rely on a Supremely Arrogant Management and Disgruntled Workforce to solve them when they are at near constant war with each other.

        Back in 2006 Airbus had some problems with the Management and the way they ran things….especially how they got the A380 Program into trouble. Airbus got rid of those guys. Airbus then fixed the company and then started fixing the problems.

        Back in 2007 Boeing staged a Rollout of a 787 (a Potemkin Village with wings) that was to be delayed and over-budget for years. And…the Executives get Bonuses, and the workers get beaten until they “Cower”. Then, after $27 Billion of Deferred production Costs and Deferred Tooling have accrued, one might suspect that there could be a systemic problem that is not being addressed. And there is no end in sight.

        The A380 might be a problem…but it’s paid for. And the A380’s woes have never stopped Airbus from making the right decisions or launching a new Aircraft Program when it was needed. And the people and policies that got the A380 Program into trouble are gone. Airbus has learned from its mistakes and has developed into a reformed and fully-unified corporation as a result.

        And Boeing has learned…What? And Boeing has reformed…How?

        • Lets be specific. The fact that the roll out of an empty aircraft was a regrettable PR stunt has nothing to do with todays safety. And please specify which are exaples of long standing problems BOEING didn’t address

          We all know and admit that BOEING’s world management of such a paradigm changing project was a giant mistake. And if BOEING is responsible of their problems with the subcontracted scope of the Aircraft can be attributed to lack of coordination.

          As for my observation th Al Jazzera did not scandalize when the A380 had this problems (originated at their own design or manufacturing) , is not justifiable because the “addressed them immediately”, by the way clearly was not the reason of AJ “tolerance”, Boeing did the same when the Japanese Battery failed. Of course, not addressing such problems would have meant more grounding!!

          So send us the support of your statements!!

        • Rather hard to criticize Airbus for the QF32 engine failure, it’s not their engine. I think they came out of that one rather well as it demonstrated the aircraft was stronger than anybody has a right to expect. Comparing the A380 and the A350 it is obvious that lessons were learnt. The sad thing about the 787 is that I have no doubt Boeing learnt its lessons there, but seem to be willing to throw away the hard earned experience and are “play it safe” with a derivative of the 777 which is susceptible to being overtaken by an A350-1100 instead of “risking” another clean sheet. I don’t believe spending 5-10 billion on a derivative which might have to compete with a newer design is playing it safe.

        • “As for my observation th Al Jazzera did not scandalize when the A380 had this problems (originated at their own design or manufacturing) , is not justifiable because the “addressed them immediately”, by the way clearly was not the reason of AJ “tolerance”, Boeing did the same when the Japanese Battery failed.”


          Oh Really? Boeing started addressing the potential problems with the battery immediately after the Battery Factory burned down in 2006? Or did Boeing wait until the planes were grounded in 2013 after fires had broken out onboard the planes?

          And if you are so worried about Boeing being unfairly “scandalized”, then perhaps you should consider that Boeing didn’t deny anything Al Jazeera said and….Boeing’s got a Phalanx of Lawyers on call who can be unleashed on Al Jazeera in the event that any Libel or Slander has occurred.

          • In response to JIMMY (also DANDAIR) “”Oh Really? Boeing started addressing the potential problems with the battery immediately after the Battery Factory burned down in 2006? Or did Boeing wait until the planes were grounded in 2013 after fires had broken out onboard the planes?””

            Which factory of the several existing?? Of course, none owned by BOEING!! And by the way, AIRBUS had chosen a Lithium battery too, but as they were years behing Boeing, decided to change such when the fire incident happened.

            Obviously, and this is precisely the most scandalous issue scenified by AL JAZEERA , all objective named in the invetigation

          • Comments are closed.

            The forum has once more degenerated into a pissing match between partisans.

      • I must disagree. This has nothing to do with Airbus, and Airbus has nothing to do with this. The problems of the A380’s were nothing compared to this. The engine was not built by Airbus and the wing cracks were not critical requiring grounding of the fleet. I find it funny how people forget or chose to ignore that the 787 uses a battery type that had been banned as cargo on airplanes because of a fire hazard. I also find it interesting that the root of the problem was NEVER found and that a “patch” was proposed and quickly approved and the problem merely contained and brushed under the rug. What Al Jazeera did was dirty, but nevertheless worthy.

        It may not be news for those who follow the industry, but it is certainly information the the public should hear and process for themselves. Airbus should be equally investigated and exposed to the public if they encounter similar problems and pressures.

  4. Scott, questions.
    1. How would you go about mending fences with the unions?
    2. What would be a reasonable compromise?
    3. Is it more an issue of style versus substance?
    4. Would a change at the top (management and union) and bringing in people more interested in compromise be needed?

    Maybe you should be a consultant… ;0)

    • The problem is that the Unions are still governed by old style Capital fighting extremists and many enterprises by old style reactionary individual, which hate “socialists”. which do not know was a socialist (or communist” is!!

      But a rapid way to solve this is to proceed as the very capitalist SWISS due: Any grave issue is solved by arbitration, strikes, lockout and compulsive action “VERBOTEN”

    • Actually, I think there is a nice symmetry. Airbus is attacking the lower end of the market with derivative and upper end with a clean sheet, Boeing is doing exactly the opposite. Both are basing their derivative on their current best selling models (A330,777). I don’t thing neither of them is in a bad position now.

  5. “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,”

    I understand that Leeham is not a news organization. With that in mind, it has been clear for at least a year (possibly two) that the situation at Charleston is not as Boeing describes publicly and that there appear to be problems there – at the very least with schedule and manhour estimates. Is any newsgathering entity – trade, financial, or general press – reporting on that? Would it even be possible for them to do so given the Boeing PR wall?

  6. I watched the ALJ documentary carefully, and appreciate that we have a news service willing to take on this story and present it the way they did. There is a lot to think about when you watch this. It would be a shame for anyone to be dismissive of the content to the point of not watching, or not dissecting the many valid issues that are raised.

    This story has many layers. Not just the technical problems with the new Li-ion battery systems, but the Boeing management v. labor conflict history, the reality that Boeing will quickly destroy internal Whistleblowers who responsibly speak up, the ascendancy of the Boeing PR machine to push stock prices higher (while concealing anything that places a downward pressure on stock value), the role of FAA as waterboy to aid companies like Boeing, and on and on.

    PR at large organizations like Boeing has been on steroids for quite a while now. We all saw the ample spin and ‘situation management’ that followed when Boeing had to try and clean up after a rash of serious Li-ion battery failures in January 2013. Spin, spin, spin. Bravo ANY media outlet that pushes back against this spin, which is what ALJ has done here.

    On the issue of Boeing culture and Whistleblowers, in an earlier Leeham News Post there were interesting comments about how the fake rollout in July 2007 could have happened yet hundreds in the know all ‘zipped their lips’. Of course they all stayed quiet; they feared getting fired in retaliation. The same ‘evil’ that spins the story in the positive while hiding all the negative … those same energies and skills are easily applied to destroy the reputation of a problem employee who ‘problematically’ spoke up with facts that undermine the show. I know this fact too personally, as an FAA ATC Whistleblower who felt the burn of FAA retaliation. My family knows the consequences, too. That vignette within the ALJ video (starting at 32-minutes) about Boeing Whistleblower John Woods? …wow, that sure felt familiar.

    Lastly, on the point made elsewhere that Boeing and the airlines have no incentive to let an unsafe aircraft (or design) get out there into service … one aspect not being considered is that the evil lies not in the PR employee waging an attack or the manager who knowingly signs off on a real hazard. Those individual employees are generally not held accountable. The true evil is systemic, and exists interstitially within the larger organization. Not just the Boeing organization, but the entire Aviation-Government complex. The retired Boeing engineers who post comments here have seen this shift, away from individual accountability. Boeing’s goal has morphed away from producing great and safe airplanes to instead creating an appearance (illusion?) that Boeing has again created a great new and safe airplane model. All of the spin, and all of the FAA ‘support’, builds culpable deniability that will be brought up later when needed, should anything bad happen to the new design. FAA’s role is to dilute accountability, so that any judge or jury in any tribunal can find enough doubt to acquit all those involved in the design, regulation, manufacture, etc. Boeing will NEVER be taken down for any failure, because FAA is their wingman, providing cover designed to overwhelm and confuse all reasonable and intelligent adjudicators. And, with that cover, the reality is Boeing CAN and WILL cut corners and push an unsafe product into service.

    • If the FAA was the only safety regulator and certifier in the world, that would have at least a shred of plausibility. Do you think the Europeans are rubber-stampers on the 787, or is there a quid-pro-quo between Boeing/FAA on one hand and Airbus/Euro regulators on the other to look the other way on each other’s safety issues? We’re drifting into conspiracy-theory nonsenseland, I think.

      • Bricktop: This is not about conspiracy, but about human habits as viewed through many generations. Most of us would probably readily concur that the EU-regulators/Airbus relationship has many precise parallels with the FAA/Boeing relationship. Indeed, the very existence of this ongoing competition between Airbus and Boeing continues to be used to skew perspectives about what is right or ethical in what action each company or regulatory will next take … and on both sides of the Pond.

        Obviously, FAA is not the only regulator. And obviously, Boeing is not the only major airline manufacturer. But as a U.S. citizen and former FAA ATC Whistleblower, my first concern is that this U.S. federal regulator and this U.S. manufacturer be maximally transparent and sincerely dedicated to aviation safety. The one indisputable ‘Drift’ here is what ALJ covered in their report: that Boeing and FAA are deeply transitioned away from safety and toward maximum profits. They are both cutting corners, trimming facts, intimidating (and attacking) Whistleblowers, and propagating PR spin.

      • It is my understanding that there is a reciprocity agreement between FAA and EASA: what is certified by one is more or less certified by the other through a rubber stamping process.
        This is I think an acceptable practice.

        • Found it:

          First of all it is important to emphasise that the implementation of the bilateral aviation safety agreement (BASA) between the US and the EU as well as its implementation procedures is the responsibility of the States for their own regulated entities. The EU, its Member States and EASA have no authority over US manufacturers exporting to the EU. It is up to the FAA to ensure that US companies correctly apply the provisions of the BASA.
          One also has to bear in mind that EASA is not the sole authority implementing the BASA on the European side; this responsibility is shared with the Member States. MROs based in Europe are under the oversight of the National Aviation Authority (NAA) of the Member State. If the MRO identifies that its US suppliers do not implement the BASA correctly this should be reported to its NAA who should inform the FAA, via or with copy to the EASA.
          In addition the MRO has the possibility under its contractual relationship with its suppliers, to request the supplier to correctly implement the BASA.

      • I agree fullyregarding the validity of the FAA and Eaa assessment and certification.

        This said, unfortunately, this can not be extrapolated to the many other institutions involved. In some cases, the conspiracy theory reflects the facts!

        And unfortunately too, the manufacturers have, as in policas, a license to lie under the cover of confusion The most blatant example is the fuel burn.

        What means when one manufacturer tells that his airctaft would burn 10% less than the of the other?? Or that his engine is x% more efficient?? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!

        Comparison can made only with other underlying factor being the same, as route miles flown, seats, liad factor, total load, max. takeof weight, max fuel carries, etc.
        The result will show the real comparable value in a what in mathematics are defined as a hypercomplex space of 10 or more variables, including last but not least the amount of penatties to be paid at non-compliance with the guaranteed.

        To allow an airline to make a decision regardingthe incidence of the fuel burn in the overall costs, a substantial number of such comparison points selected within probable scenarios must be evaluated with the procedures supplies by mathematics.

        Finally: above assessment problems are even more difficult if the manufacturer (as presently AIRBUS with the STILL NOT EXISTING A330neo) tries to achieve results equal or better as he existing B787. What Sales Managers, the 21st century horse traders tell, must be discarded as as hot air!!

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  8. Hello,
    I am the host of Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story.” I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, and I don’t know where you get your information. We were NEVER planning a program on the 787, thus we never could have invited you to participate in the program, and we never could have cancelled it. Please correct this blog post. There is simply no other way to say it: As we were never planning to do such a program, we never could have “dumped” it as your headline claims along with the body copy of your piece. I am happy to discuss this with you at your convenience. But please, I must insist that a correction be made. There was no such episode of Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” contemplated at any time.

    Ray Suarez
    Inside Story

  9. You can always question associations and motives. This has gone on quite a bit since the ALJ piece came out.

    The merits of the piece get dismissed. Construct gets criticized and stylistics questioned and used as the basis to somehow disregard.

    Whistle-blowers are always ‘Disgruntled’. They a bad. We are good. Trust us.

    Unions? They just have an axe to grind. Greedy, corrupt. Whiners.

    Corrupt politics? Business is business. You buy nuts and bolts, engines, wings, politicians, and regulators. The usual.

    Just be sure to make the payments on time and it’s all yours. It’s the American way.

    You can even play bully and steal some kid’s (the taxpayers) lunch money.

    A history of untruths, misrepresentations, and outright lies? Well, that’s ancient history and and we’re all good now so let’s just forget it m’kay?

    Media culpability? Having followed the media reaction (I won’t rudely cast judgement on our host here, so leave him OUT of the equation) I’ve found it has been softball in Washington, powder puff piece soft in Charleston, yet somewhat more balanced everywhere else in the states, to more broadly supportive overseas.

    One local web based business publication didn’t put their usual Boeing beat guy on the story. They had another staffer make a neutral advisory of it. That smells and say ‘we are worried about access’.

    The merits of the story. The truths and untruths. That’s all I care about. If you really want to understand ulterior motives, look at MONEY. An aircraft with a program accounting block of what now? 1200?

    Perhaps it’s because the media doesn’t have to deal with a constant moral dilemma. The only obligation is to report what is said. There is nothing that says they have to make a judgement on it. Nobody can judge them wrong later, and they don’t have to live with it eating at them every day.

  10. Steve closed with: “…Perhaps it’s because the media doesn’t have to deal with a constant moral dilemma. The only obligation is to report what is said….”

    In my experience, the media (at least today) does not work that way anymore. Their dilemma is having a job six months from now, so they had better not be critical when they show up to ask questions about drug sales while on duty at Boeing-SC. They have no obligation to report what is said; their obligation is to in-process what they can get on the story (which is typically what they are fed), then out-process it into a published piece that keeps all parties happy, more or less. Or, at least, a piece that does not threaten their reporting gig.

    I appreciate Al Jazeera doing this piece, for which they spent much of a year. It is up to Boeing to clarify the story elements that distress viewers (and there are many). If/when Boeing’s clarification amounts to just spin aimed at confusing people and attacking their naysayers, well, hopefully, enough of us have the critical thinking capacity to see this for what it is and speak up.

  11. I’m afraid the focus on the backgrounds, reporters, history, lack of hard proof, AJ being from Arab Qatar can be used to distract attention from the topics being adressed in the documentary.

  12. Perhaps some of you will remember that it was NOT the FAA but the Japanese aviation regulator which first withdrew the B787’s certification.?

    This is not a Boeing/Airbus (US/Europe) issue, but a worldwide one.

    IF the 787 is anything like as bad as has been suggested, it is a long-term problem which Boeing is sitting on & waiting for it to hatch.
    IF this happens, Boeing will need a lot of financial strength to fix or buy-back these aircraft AND to compensate airlines for the consequential-loss of losing the asset.

    When the A380 had issues, Airbus fixed them & compensated airlines for the problem. That situation has gone-away because Airbus gave airlines confidence in the product.

    It is so difficult to know whether airlines are or are not yet confident in the 787 & if they are, will they continue to show that confidence with confirmation of future order-options.?

    Will the 787 go on to have a glorious & sustained future or will it come to be regarded as America’s ‘Comet’; an aircraft built slightly too far ahead of current technology’s capability.?

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