Dreamliner 787 battery fires burn FAA and media too
The FAA and media come out looking foolish or institutionally corrupt as the 787 issues force regulatory responses, because there are other major question marks over this airliner and its certification as safe.
There are two very difficult issues that now arise for the 787 Dreamliners, even if the battery problems are resolved quickly.
One is that the FAA’s certification of the airliner was either corrupt or seriously deficient, placing doubts over the proper testing and approvals of the other innovative technologies in carbon fibre materials and assembly techniques in the Dreamliners.
And the other is that airline managements in general, having ‘transitioned’ from boards and executives with technical skills, to those out to make a killing from stock plays, may have been caught up in the frauds or fantasies that have accompanied the 787s on their long and now interrupted journey from hype to airliner reality.
If this isn’t institutionalized corruption, what is?
The FAA’s certification process had by the time it dealt with the 787 moved from real independent testing and certification of projects to oversight of the processes. This outsourcing of the certification processes to the actual beneficiaries of the process is incompatible with the purpose and intent of testing and certification.
As painfully seen in its disgraced approval of the now defunct Eclipse 500 jet.
That process, which lead to serious disclosures in Congress and a unilateral cancellation of the Eclipse 500 certification by EASA, the European counterpart of the FAA, is fairly summarised in Wikpedia, including some obvious lying by the jet’s proponents. The weasel words you will find in the history of the Eclipse certification debacle came from the same FAA administrators that ‘facilitated’ rather than thorougly and independently examined the early stages of the 787 project.
The FAA leaned on its executives to drive the certification of the Eclipse 500 by deadline, not by due and diligent process.
The current review of the FAA processes followed for the 787, unfortunately being conducted by the FAA into its previous conduct, will have to determine whether undue ‘calendar driven’ pressure was applied to the Dreamliner’s certification which in part involved blind acceptance of Boeing’s data, rather than independently derived data.
These are important matters. Regardless of what the outcome might prove to be in relation to the 787 batteries, there are many other aspects of the Dreamliner’s certification which may have been just as derelict when it comes to its use of thin load bearing pressure cycle sensitive carbon fibre components.
On the public record, Boeing insisted that there couldn’t be fires of the type that have occurred in 787 service because of the protections built into the design.
This was complete bullsh*t by a Boeing run by marketing people rather than experienced engineers, and it was dangerous, nasty, life threatening rubbish that was accepted by an intellectually corruptly managed FAA to the risk of public safety.
What Boeing said then has been proven completely wrong now by two ‘impossible fires’ that are being examined under a review Boeing says is unnecessary for jets it insists are still safe. What does Boeing want? A 787 to keep flying until it fries a few hundred people?
Which raises the second difficult issue, which is the credibility of the company’s guidance and the ability or will of airlines and the media to insist on answers to prudent and sensible questions.
There is in my personal experience not one single truthful statement of significance made by Boeing to the media and the market in relation to the progress and capabilities of this program between early 2005 and late 2010.
The roll out of the shell of a 787 in July 2007 that was purported to be the prototype that would fly by the end of September that year and be certified by late May 2008 was a willful, orchestrated and totally deceitful lie.
As were the persistent claims that the jet could be finally assembled in three days from components flown or shipped to the final assembly line at Everett, after being variously glued together and baked in giant autoclaves or industrial ovens.
No jet airliner in history has ever been lied about for longer. It was a total triumph of spin over realities, and in the process Boeing dumbed down its work force, to the point where workers weren’t even putting the right rivets into the right holes. When it outsourced design and risk and reward to a wide range of offshore suppliers, it actually murdered the Boeing that had made the 777, the 747 and, back at the beginning of the commercial jet age, the 707s and 727s.
The only reasonable conclusion that can be made from this sorry and infuriating history of totally misleading and inaccurate announcements is that Boeing deliberately and persistently lied about the program.
If it wasn’t lying, then it had absolutely no idea what was going on in the project. Those lies were by and large, circulated by a compromised aviation media that made the reporters that adulated Lance Armstrong through seven Tours de France and beyond look like tough old school investigative journalists instead of the fools they are shown to be today.
If Boeing didn’t lie then its people were in the grip of an institutionalized fantasy that was aided and abetted by a compliant FAA and a media that often forgot who it was working for when it pumped out the embarrassing drivel that is found in copious quantities in hard copy back issues and internet archives.
This media fawning didn’t help Boeing. Had it been put in the spotlight, and the tough questions asked, a much better, less trouble prone 787 might have been now coming into service, making a beautiful and exciting plane real in every sense.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.