More Tech/PR Woes for Boeing’s 787 ‘Dreamliner’

Here at PRNewser we love to report on the love/hate (but mostly hate) relationship between the public and the airline industry. The latest trouble spot for the business of flying concerns Boeing‘s extra-fancy new 787 “Dreamliner” jets.

We don’t know about you guys, but we flew to Texas on a Dreamliner over Christmas break and it provided us with a glance into the industry’s future: fully reclining seats, larger overhead bins, seatback screens with more media choices and bigger windows with a magical “dimming” option that lets the rider determine how much light he or she wants to let in (screw you, pull down shades!).

It was all pretty cool. But Boeing and United Airlines, the only American company using the Dreamliners, have a big PR problem: the damned things just can’t seem to work right. This isn’t a new development. In fact, it’s an ongoing headache for both companies’ communications teams.

The Dreamliner’s debut faced years of delays due to technological imperfections that were all but inevitable for such a powerful machine that relies on digital technology to an unprecedented degree. December brought stories of electric generators failing, and this week two domestic flights in Japan were cancelled due to onboard computers that “erroneously showed problems with the aircraft’s brakes”. Even worse, a spokesman for All Nippon Airways told media outlets that the problem had been around since 2011.

Not good. And we haven’t even touched on the fuel leakage issue–yesterday a fuel leak forced a Dreamliner to return to its gate in Boston mere minutes before takeoff. These problems have been common enough for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to order mandatory inspections of the fuel lines on every 787, and last year Japan’s transport ministry found problems that required the replacement of pricey parts on eight different planes.

Here’s the thing: while these tech glitches do not indicate “serious design problems”, they do amount to a big PR challenge. The eventual success of the Dreamliner is crucial to both Boeing and United, because Boeing completed 46 planes last year, plans to double its rates by the end of 2013 and “expects to sell 5,000” of the things over the next few years. If the numbers don’t add up then the losses certainly will.

Let us know, readers: Do you feel safe flying on a Dreamliner after all these problematic reports?