Unhappy With My Dreamliner Coverage, Boeing Claims Conspiracy Theory

July 12, 2017 / 23 Comments

Norwegian 737 MAX takes off from Seattle. Boeing provided photo

Its Boeing’s factory, it can do what it wants within its gates, but I have to wonder if its decision to ban me from the property during a Norwegian press event last month isn’t a sign of these Trump times.

Many people are the subject of news stories they don’t like. What Trump’s journalist-bashing behavior seems to have taught Boeing is that when they don’t like the coverage all they have to do is slander the journalist. Here’s the backstory.

On June 29, Norwegian took delivery of two 737 Max 8’s it has on order. The new 189 seat narrow body will be used to provide low-cost, trans-Atlantic flights from the U.S. East Coast, as I reported for The New York Times earlier this year.

Norwegian invited me to its aircraft delivery press conference and factory tour which I agreed to write about for Mary Kirby’s RunwayGirlNetwork news site. Days before I was to fly to Seattle, however, Norwegian spokesman Anders Lindstrom called to tell me Boeing would not allow me to attend. Not two weeks earlier I’d been in touch with Boeing PR regarding another Times story and there was no mention of my persona-non-grata status at Boeing.

Mary Kirby, publisher of RunwayGirlNetwork

Like me, Mary Kirby was chagrined.

“When corporations block us from events, I take it as a sign that we’re doing something right as hard-nosed journalists. And we have gotten rather good at finding workarounds. But, given the current anti-journalism climate – not to mention the fact there isn’t a glut of women aviation journalists out there – Norwegian’s statement that Boeing barred Christine Negroni from company property is concerning to say the least.”

Lindstrom said Boeing didn’t give an explanation for barring me, but mentioned I was a “conspiracy theorist.”  That was mystifying. Perhaps Boeing’s “conspiracy theorist” is an alternative version of Trump’s “alternative facts.” Spokesmen Doug Alder and Paul Bergman failed to answer three emails I sent in June, seeking an explanation.

I can only conclude that Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace, defense and security company is worried about a middle-aged mom, who sometimes writes in her pajamas. Or more specifically they’re worried about my book, The Crash Detectives.

Here’s why.

As I’ve reported more than a dozen times in my Flying Lessons blog and then in Fallibility/Section Three of my book, Boeing’s Dreamliner power supply system, specifically the lithium ion batteries on the B-787, was hastily conceived, badly designed, poorly tested and ultimately a safety threat grave enough that the entire fleet of Dreamliners was grounded for four months in 2013.

ANA Flight 692 after its emergency landing. Kenichi Kawamura photo

That’s a lot of stuff right there in the previous paragraph. To get a handle on it, you really should read the book.

Over the course of two years, I reached out to Boeing repeatedly looking for answers, guidance and clarification of information I was receiving elsewhere. The company consistently declined to respond, citing the status of the investigation into the two battery failure events on Japanese carriers which were responsible for the initial grounding of the fleet.

Nice try, but by 2015, the American and Japanese investigations were over. Doug Alder, did send an email in January of that year, complaining about my continued attempts to report on the Dreamliner’s battery problem.

“We received word that you contacted at least one employee recently,” he wrote. “That person followed the correct protocol by not returning your call—and then notified a manager and Communications.”

Thermal damage to Dreamliner battery photo NTSB

So, who did provide information sufficient to fill nearly sixty pages? Who were my partners in conspiracy? The NTSB and its Japanese counterpart the JTSB, JAXA, the Japan space agency, NASA, Dreamliner pilots, Dreamliner passengers, Dreamliner operators, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Federal Aviation Administration, nearly a dozen chemical engineers and battery specialist including one who served on the post-grounding review committee assembled by Boeing and several who were instrumental in developing the original lithium ion batteries.

Offered the opportunity to weigh in on my reporting, this enormous company with more communications specialists than the White House, opted not to comment. Nevertheless, I persisted, writing a comprehensive account of Boeing’s epic failure to understand the unique issues of lithium ion so that even now the 787 batteries must be housed in a titanium containment system to protect against potential failures.

Call it a conspiracy theory, call it alternative facts. I call it the kind of reporting we need now more than ever and I know I’m not alone in thinking that.

Boeing can shut me out, but it cannot shut me up.

Categories: Flying Lessons

23 responses to “Unhappy With My Dreamliner Coverage, Boeing Claims Conspiracy Theory”

  1. Bert says:

    Getting too close to their wallet Christine! Good work, especially for a “conspiracy theorist!”

  2. Christine Garner says:

    Wow shocking. Definitely Boeings loss! Can’t help wondering what they are trying to cover up? Keep on doing what you do Christine because you do it SO WELL!

  3. Christine Garner: “Can’t help wondering what they are trying to cover up?”

    Why would you make an assumption like that? Based on what evidence?

  4. Dave Starr says:

    It’s really hard to believe that a company with the proud history of Boeing would behave that way, but given the current anti-media sentiment I can see how this would happen. Sad, becuase I have always been a Boeing fan. Guess I have been backing the wrong horse.

    Keep writing, this is a story that needs to get out.

  5. Paul says:

    “Nevertheless, I persisted…”

    Keep up the great work, Christine.

  6. Got news for you, Dave Starr: The “anti-media sentiment” isn’t just “current.” A very large portion of American citizens have recognized for a very long time now that most of the MSM chucked real journalism decades ago and have long since been acting as nothing more than shills for the Far-Left Democrats in America.

  7. Jerome PIETRASIK says:

    Trump’s behaviour , and now Boeing’s, are a real threat to America’s democracy and freedom.
    I followed each one of your reportings on the 787. Every line resulted from the work of a true journalist. Congratulations, Christine.
    Jerome, Capt. retired.

  8. Deanna Harms says:

    Keep asking the hard questions. That’s why we read your coverage. “When corporations block us from events, I take it as a sign that we’re doing something right as hard-nosed journalists.”

  9. Justin Shea says:

    You lost me when you plugged your own book (which has something interesting reviews on Amazon) to defend yourself against Boeing.

    The points you made about the conception and production of the battery systems seem more based in opinion than fact.

    Was a successful solution implemented? (I assume so since I haven’t heard anything else about it since the grounding was lifted and airlines keep rolling out new 787s) If so, what’s your point and why would Boeing welcome you to their facility when it seems like you’re more on a crusade against them than interested in impartial reporting.

    • Christine Negroni says:

      Justin, I was not plugging my book (though I have been guilty of that in the past and will be again in the future) The book is the only known reason why Boeing would ban me from its property. And I can only conclude this since it has failed to explain itself despite being asked repeatedly. The case against the Dreamliner in The Crash Detectives has not been disputed by Boeing or anyone else knowledgeable. For the company to claim it is a “conspiracy theory” is a) untrue and b) slander. Boeing did not make this claim to me, which would be the responsible and professional way to handle it. Instead it acted like a teenager by whispering to one of its customers after my name appeared on the list of journalists attendinga delivery event on Boeing property. Boeing is demonstrating a crude and heavy handed way of dealing with the press that goes something like this; Divert attention from the journalism by disparaging the journalist. As Trump would say, “Not good.”

  10. JoeChin13 says:

    Hi Christine, I don’t agree with everything you have to say but I believe you are genuine in your desire to help make aviation safe. It should come as no surprise that Boeing isn’t welcoming to your presence, just as I probably wouldn’t welcome to my company function, those who have publicly criticised my business. Perhaps I (and Boeing) should be more gracious in this regard, but in business, you choose which battle/who to undertake with the finite cycles at hand.

    Anyways, keep up the great work.

  11. Marshall Massengale says:

    I can’t speak for Boeing, of course, or for President Trump either for that matter, having noted that you mention the latter as if to draw a parallel, but it does seem nowadays that journalism tends to take a less balanced approach than in decades past, often skewing the lines between objectivity and editorial content. It is possible that this apparent lack of trust may be the reason insiders at Boeing, as in the Republican Party, perhaps look upon the media with a jaundiced eye. For Boeing, one may imagine that the stakes are rather high and tensions tight when the quarterly numbers vs Airbus are posted in much the same way as political campaigns tend to run around polling data. I have to wonder, Christine, if your press credentials may have suffered from continuing to beat a dead horse, so to speak, if you persisted on covering the 787 lithium battery issue even after the fix was in place and production ramped up. After all, unlike the the Lockheed L-188 Electra story more than half a century ago or the DC-10 baggage door locking mechanism failures, no crashes or loss of life occurred with the 787 introduction. Perhaps, in that regard, the industry has come a long way, but still, numbers as they affect delivery schedules, orders and finally profits are everything to a company even as winning elections are the ultimate goal of political candidates and parties. In both instances, it’s bad form to tell a mother that her baby is ugly.

  12. Sandra Arnoult says:

    What were you ‘conspiring’ to do? What would be your purpose? What would receive in return? I just don’t get where this comes from. It’s so off the wall.

  13. Ken Spencer says:

    Shame on Boeing. Banning you from the plant is so small and petty. Shame on them! I thought “the Crash Detectives” was a terrific book. I learned so many new things about crashes that I thought I knew all about!

  14. Mojo says:

    Interesting. I am 22yr aviation professional. The interesting points in your article were points of pushing your book and a political agenda of bashing the current storm of media inaccuracies. There is a point of reporting facts vs opinions. When you can achieve that, maybe you will be successful!

    • Christine Negroni says:

      Thanks Mojo, I write a blog post which is my informed opinion based on facts and in fact, I’m pretty successful at it.

  15. Karl F says:

    @Robert J. Boser

    Got news for you, Mr.Boser: A very large portion of American citizens don’t have passports; have never travelled outside the US; know little, or nothing about the outside world; believe that the Universe is 5000 yrs. old and don’t seem to realise that the US has two political parties – the conservative party and the extremely conservative party. Typically, the above mentioned group of misinformed people have no idea what real journalism is like; have serious deficiencies in critical thinking and vote against their own economic interests – easy fodder, in fact, for US right-wing propaganda outlets.

  16. David Venz says:

    As a retired airline and aircraft manufacturer spokesman, I cannot conceive of slamming the door on any reputable aviation journalist and particularly one with your credentials. I have known many journalists through good times and bad. Those who were amateurs, I tried to help. Those with solid credentials I may have sometimes disagreed with, but trusted their intent and honesty. And I think that used to be true with Boeing. Perhaps Boeing should reflect on the people it hires to communicate or its approach to the subject.

  17. Eve Cogan says:

    Boeing should be more transparent about which parts of your book they refute. If they think your journalism includes some conspiracy theories, then they need to back up such a claim.

    I don’t believe Boeing has dealt with this issue well, although I do understand that Boeing may worry about giving too much information that might frighten customers, affect future lawsuits or give competitors an upper hand.

    Always a fan of your tough investigative journalism, Christine.

  18. No conspiracy, sorry. says:

    Why don’t you write about those DANGEROUS horseless carriages (that’s cars for you) with the HIGHLY FLAMMABLE liquid splashing around? Oh, wait, they solved that one too. Staying where things are is easy, advancing is hard. I’m supporting THE FACTS and Boeing.

  19. Tom Schiff says:

    It is interesting that over 5 years from start of 787 production and with a backlog of 600 unsold planes the rate of production is a measly 10 planes per month which is exactly what it has been for many years. These figures are directly from Boeing’s own website boeing.com.

    What is fundamentally wrong with the 787 that production has not been ramped up?

  20. Zagorfly says:

    I suggest you to leave out politics and focus on aviation facts not theories. Boeing maybe declined an interview with you probably because you did a parallel between the Comet and the 787..
    There are many people that call them self pilots because they fly a drone..

  21. Paul Proctor says:

    Says the guy who gave me a 20-minute, disparaging lecture when I wrote about the true cost of developing the A380 for AvWeek. Who was right Dave ( actually I was still way low!)

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