Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Yesterday an unusual event took place. Boeing, specifically the Boeing 787 program VP Mike Sinnet and Test Pilot Heather Ross hosted a live interactive webcast.  I was lucky enough to catch about 45 minutes of the event.

I had received an invitation for the program the day before. It was an unrestricted log in and listen type format with Twitter serving as the medium for submitting questions. In a word, it was fascinating. It said a lot about the kind of company Boeing is.

Questions came from aeronautical engineers, business flyers, wannabe pilots and folks who were just curious about some aspect of the 787.  The subjects covered myriad topics from flying in general to specifics about the battery fix put into place by the folks at Boeing.

The 787 program is groundbreaking in so many ways; I guess it should not be a surprise that Boeing would turn to an event like this to open up the lines of communication between itself and the flying public. This is telling in that it supports the idea that Boeing knows who their customer really is. In case you are confused by that statement, let me clue you in. Boeing’s customer is the flying public far more so than the various airlines flying their equipment.

The airline/passenger relationship is totally different from the airframe manufacturer/passenger relationship is. This is not just some high level marketing concept, it is a very real dynamic that has profound effects on the actions all of us involved in the business of air travel.

Airlines select airplanes because they meet some performance criteria in terms of capacity, speed and fuel economy. They look at their mission as one of moving 50, 100 or 600 passengers between point A and point B. They will select and buy the aircraft that handles that job in the most economic fashion.

Airline passengers choose airlines because they offer flights to places they want to get to on a schedule that is convenient to them. Many times, passengers have a choice. That means the passenger will be comparing other factors in order to make a decision. One of those will be the equipment used for the flight.

As a business flyer, this factor is important to me. When I traveled frequently, it was very important to me. I was much less concerned about the paint scheme and logo on the skin of the airplane than I was about what type of airplane it was to begin with.

One of the things Boeing does very well is to bring the passenger into the concept development phase of a new airplane. Then, again and again at each design stage, throughout the development of that aircraft the passenger is consulted. The passenger is part of the design group.

Additionally, Boeing understands that all passengers are not alike, a great example of this is found in the design of the 777. The overhead compartments can be easily reached by persons of short stature.

When the plane is rolled out, takes to the air and finally enters into revenue generating service, everyone has a little stake in that airplane. People want it to do well because in part it is “their” airplane.

During the discussion yesterday, it was apparent that Boeing has earned a huge amount of respect and trust from the flying public. Both Mr. Sinnet and Ms. Ross were clearly excited about a chance to talk with people about their product. The Q&A was not all softball either. But, it was clear these guys knew their stuff. I had the feeling they had picked the right people to handle this event. Both of them made a point of stating how much they loved their jobs and being a part of Boeing.

When was the last time you heard a corporate apologist gush about how much they loved working for their company?

Hats off to Boeing for getting this right!