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Turbulence with Boeing: how this affects companies in the aviation industry

Aviation - 8th May 2024
Turbulence with Boeing: how this affects companies in the aviation industry

I was awoken on my recent flight back to London from AERO Friedrichshafen, where I was informed we were flying to Brussels for an emergency landing due to strange smells coming from the air conditioning. Looking around at concerned faces, I immediately assumed we were flying in an ill-fated Boeing aircraft—it was an Airbus.

Following Boeing’s string of mishaps over the first quarter alone—The Alaska Airlines’ cabin panel blowout, a United Airlines’ wheel falling off and 787 Dreamliner safety concerns, to name a few – associating the established company with safety failures has become the current norm.

This is not only the case with the public, professional pilots who fly for a living have also voiced their concerns with industry processes that have, for the most part, been safe until now.

For a company with a duopoly in the aviation industry, Boeing’s reputation is undoubtedly in jeopardy — affecting public trust, destabilising the job market, creating an opportunity for a monopoly, impacting the economy, and so much more.

This begs the question, if it can happen to Boeing, can it happen to you or your company?

How to mitigate the backlash of a crisis

There are significant risks to any crises in any industry. With Boeing, monetary loss has been significant, having almost doubled in the first quarter alone.  While there is a legacy to hide behind and the funds to do so, there is an extreme amount of pressure from the public, authorities and aviation industry professionals, to make serious amends. To add, it’s easy to make mistakes when all eyes are on you.

For any company, having a crisis management plan can mean making a full recovery and preventing further headaches, such as the British Royal Family’s ongoing PR challenges or Nestle’s damaging response to Greenpeace’s social media attack.

The first step to a good crisis plan is identifying the root cause. Oftentimes, companies will jump to a solution before understanding the problem. This can cause issues in the long-term if apologies start to become repetitive.

Having a tailored crisis plan and strategy ensures you are communicating correctly and to the right audience. Through a skilled media relations response you can increase the likelihood of a fair and balanced reporting of the news.

A strong crisis management plan should entail a formal statement to reassure both the public and employees that issues are being investigated. It should also incorporate a RACI matrix and internal communications plan so employees are aligned on individual responsibilities and messaging.

A crisis can cause worry not only for those in the industry but also for employees who may be concerned with the state of the company. Take Twitter – now formally known as X – for example. Elon Musk’s acquisition and demand for employees to sign a pledge to work ‘long hours at high intensity’, sparked a mass employee walkout. An analysis by Edward Segal at Forbes, indicated that Elon Musk lacked a strategic crisis communications plan to manage the plight unfolding.

It’s important to keep communications transparent and candid. A bad situation can be further exacerbated by silence or equivocation and this can be damaging.

Increased public concern and scrutiny: why this can be problematic

With every week that goes by, news headlines reporting on Boeing continue to flood my inbox with no end in sight. Some of the reporting can be deemed fearmongering, and aviation is still the safest form of transportation. However, the confidence of some travellers in aviation safety has taken a hit.

NBC reports that the news and ongoing developments at Boeing are affecting who travellers choose to fly with. Airlines that solely use Boeing aircraft, are starting to feel the chain reaction catalysed by the series of unfortunate events going back to 2018 when two 737 Max aircraft crashed due to a faulty sensor.

Public scrutiny closely follows concern. The term ‘guilt by association’ rings true here, whereby any company with an affiliation — whether through partnership or other relationship — to the subject of a crisis may be put under the spotlight. For example, while Boeing’s fuselage subcontractor Spirit Aerosystems has been most obviously under pressure, Boeing’s extensive supply chain means that many other suppliers are likely to have felt or awaited increased scrutiny by customers, regulators and the media.

Put under the spotlight – how to take advantage of a bad situation

A good crisis communications plan will help you mitigate any damage that arises from a difficult situation. A great crisis communications plan will enable you to navigate a crisis effectively and strategically enhance your company’s position.

For instance, at a time of turmoil for Twitter (X), Instagram’s ‘Threads’ was launched, hijacking the market for ‘microblogging’ and signing 100m users in less than a week. With the cost-of-living crisis in the UK and onset of the pandemic in 2020, Tesco launched its Aldi price match – assuring customers that Tesco offered great value. These are two examples of companies who stole the spotlight in a moment of doubt for the right reasons.

Another PR tactic that supports positive spotlight is newsjacking – where a brand adds its thoughts or opinions on trending or breaking news stories. This goes a long way in expanding brand reach, illustrating the nature of your brand, boosting social media engagement, and much more. However, to benefit from newsjacking, you must know the right story to approach and when to do so. Poorly timed and irrelevant stories can potentially do more harm to your brand’s reputation and draw the wrong attention. Expert advice and a timely strategy can ensure you are making the right decisions.

Additionally, a creative campaign that showcases how a company is approaching a crisis can also positively impact public perception. In a legal battle between retailers Marks & Spencer and Aldi over the famed Collin the Caterpillar cake by M&S, Aldi was sued for trademark infringement. Instead of managing this quietly, Aldi took a legal battle crisis and turned it into a social media campaign, launching ‘Free Cuthbert’ with the tagline: “This is not just any court case, this is…#freecutbert”, cleverly satirising the famous M&S advertising slogan. As Marketing Week reported, the campaign racked up 1,400 pieces of written coverage and an additional 30 million views across social media platforms by users.


It’s easy to be caught in the crosswires of a crisis but there are ways to mitigate the risks that follow and work them in your favour. Boeing illustrates the importance of being prepared and while a crisis may be affecting other brands in your industry – the above teaches us that if it can happen to them, it can happen to you.

For expert advice, feel free to reach out to our friendly team to find out how we can support you.

Chelsea Nagrey