Talk about hair-raising! A close call for Boeing

By Tim Raetzloff | Nov 18, 2010

My phone began to ring and emails began to come in shortly after Boeing 787, code ZA002 – the second of six flight-test aircraft in the 787 program – made an emergency landing in Laredo, Texas because of smoke in the cabin.

I have been a persistent critic of the 787 program, and several people expected me to know what was going on.

 I don’t know any more than anyone else who watches the news and scans the Internet. I work with statistics, and the statistics of the 787 program have always been worse than Boeing’s PR department would like the public to know.

 

The statistics of this latest incident, according to Internet news reports, are that 42 people aboard ZA002 got a serious scare. The statistics say at least one person suffered some injury. The statistics say the pilot brought the plane down with everyone alive.

Just a week before Thanksgiving, this should be a cause for thanksgiving; everyone aboard is able to go home to their families.

The Boeing flight test home page shows no test flights scheduled for any of the other five test 787s. This would indicate that Boeing has taken the reasonable precaution of holding off on test flights until it can determine whether this mishap was a matter of chance or a design problem.

 The test program will be delayed. The test program was already on a tight schedule to try to complete in time for a delivery of the first 787 by mid-1st quarter 2011.

I said in a recent column that the number of hours remaining for completion was too to many to allow Boeing to meet the schedule. This latest delay makes it clear that Boeing must reschedule tests and deliveries.

Delivery of the first Dreamliner, or nightmare liner as it has become for Boeing, will be delayed yet again. The program will be more than three years late before any planes are delivered.

This is what we can see with certainty. What is not yet evident is how long the delay will be.

Are we talking days or weeks? Is the damage to ZA002 extensive enough that it will not soon return to the test program?

If so, another airplane will be required to take up the tests scheduled for ZA002.

This latest incident is not one that could have been predicted from test statistics, but I admit that my gut feeling has been there would be an incident sooner or later.

I have been accused of having an anti-Boeing bias. I admit I am anti-787 and anti-Boeing Chicago.

A long time ago in another millennium I was an engineering model maker at Boeing on the ill-fated SST and the successful 747. Everything I have observed and heard about the 787 is in direct contradiction to what I remember from those programs.

The design of the 787 seems to be by committee; to quote Mike Warden, “You just can’t design an airplane by committee.”

 The 777 is an out-sourced airplane, but the design was done in Everett by Boeing engineers; the 777 is one of the safest, most successful planes in history.

For the 787, Boeing seems to have relied on engineers at subcontractors to design the parts of the plane that those subcontractors were building. These are probably fine engineers, but they lack the five-generation lore that has been passed down within the Boeing Co.

Boeing was once an engineering-driven company. Boeing Chicago has turned it into a PR-driven company. PR doesn’t build airplanes.

Boeing PR has blamed everybody but Boeing for the three-year delay in the 787 program. It’s the fault of Rolls Royce, Alenia, the Machinists Union or someone else.

At some point it must become evident that the fault is in the basic plan. Until the plan is corrected, the program will continue to lurch from failure to failure.

Next time we may not be able to be thankful.

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(Tim Raetzloff, who operates Abarim Business Computers at Five Corners in Edmonds, evaluates Puget Sound business activity in his regular column in the Beacon. In the interests of full disclosure he says, “Neither I nor Abarim have any interest in or conflict with any company mentioned in this column.”)

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