HOUSTON: Boeing plans to stay in the background as the investigation of the Columbia space shuttle disaster proceeds.
Recent stories have questioned a Boeing analysis of the shuttle's condition after a takeoff accident, but Boeing has refused to comment on its analysis, and will remain quiet.
"It would be irresponsible for us to speculate on the investigation as it's going on," said Kari Kelley Allen, director of communications with Boeing's NASA systems group.
Dan Beck, Boeing director of communications for launch and satellite systems, agreed. "We're not going to engage in an exercise to second-guess in the media," he said. "We will work with the investigation."
As it does that, Boeing has also launched a major effort to communicate with employees involved with the shuttle and other space-related work.
On February 1, Boeing's CEO flew to Houston to meet with employees after the reentry tragedy, already having e-mailed them the morning after the accident. Other Boeing managers have been meeting with employees as well.
A website and e-mails are being used for ongoing employee communications on the investigation.
"Without us helping them understand what's going on, all they would have to rely on is the media," said Beck. Grief counselors were brought into Boeing's Houston offices, and are still available there.
When the disaster struck, Allen implemented a crisis communications plan Boeing had prepared in advance. It creates such a plan with NASA before every shuttle flight.
Within two hours, senior communications execs throughout Boeing were teleconferencing to discuss crisis communications actions to be undertaken.
The company fielded more than 150 phone calls the first weekend, estimated Walter Rice, director of external communications for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, which is based in St. Louis.
Beck has been preparing nightly media summaries so the company can stay on top of key issues. While Boeing isn't rating coverage in terms of favorability, Rice said he believes overall coverage has been balanced.