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Dreamliners: Not just about Boeings, but banks, bridges and buildings

How much do the Dreamliner problems tell us about the alleged failures of ‘looter-taker’ managements in general, which can bring down banks, buildings and bridges, and not just Boeings, by exposing ‘self regulation’ as a defective sham.

Media attention in global terms is dividing over the 787 Dreamliner issues into ‘narrow focus’ analysis of the fires that caused its grounding, and the big picture issues about ‘looter/taker’ management practices that have brought down banks, may have brought down bridges and buildings, and might have brought down Boeings had not Japan’s aviation authorities taken the lead over a reluctant US FAA.

The big picture issues are arguably far more important, because they go to the heart of the regulatory ‘reforms’ in finance as well as engineering, that gained momentum in the 90s under the manta of ‘self regulation’ or a transfer of responsibility from public authorities who were supposed to regulate to those those who were supposed to be being regulated.

The term ‘looter/taker’ first appeared before the current Dreamliner crisis in a Seattle Times article last September, in which it looked very frankly at what was amiss in Boeing.

After several revisitations of these issues in the Euro and American media in the past week, Forbes has come up with what may well be the most succinct and fair, but no doubt horribly unwelcome analysis of where Boeing went wrong , which on careful reading, brings as to a confrontation with management and public administration failures on as far broader scale in the present.

The Forbes article is very lay friendly and is strongly recommended.

The starting point in this situation remains of deep concern, which is that two Dreamliners experienced fires that Boeing has previously said were impossible for an airliner the FAA certified as safe based on data provided by Boeing, which no one is suggesting was false, but which was ultimately useless.

But Boeing, like Qantas, and many other airlines, had ideological problems with the importance of mere technically literate skilled engineers and designers, and reading through the volumes of lies and deceptions it published concerning the 787, was off in la-la land flogging semi fictional assertions about the project to carriers and media that were neither equipped nor disposed to questioning any of them.

Maybe, however, there is hope in all of this in that the FAA when it announced its review, made it a broad review, not just one about the batteries, which may be an issue that gets resolved in less than a year.

Those references to the broader 787 program cover the risk that what has gone wrong in the design, quality and handling of the Lithium ion batteries at the centre of the current crisis may also have affected other aspects of the Dreamliner in terms of composites, systems and overall structural integrity.

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  • 1
    comet
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    The person at Boeing who knew, who accurately predicted what would happen, was an engineer (Dr. L. J. Hart-Smith).

    The ones that didn’t know, were the executives running the company from Chicago, with their business school and marketing qualifications, who knew nothing about engineering or “how to make an airplane” stuff.

    Putting marketing people in charge of a complex technology company is a disaster. We see it time and time again. Look at Microsoft, another Seattle company, with a marketing guy in charge, it will have a bigger downfall than Boeing.

    We also see the outsourcing disaster time and time again. The Australian television industry is a good example. It outsources most of its program production, giving others the expertise, while losing the in-house expertise. It looks good on the books for a few years, but comes back to bite later (when TV is totally internet based, local content is all they will have, but they’ve given that ability to others).

    The Boeing disaster is not over yet. We have seen the failure of the 787′s electrical systems, but we haven’t even approached the problems that will arise from using a mainly plastic composite fuselage.

    The lesson: Don’t buy shares in Boeing, Microsoft, or any Australian TV station!

  • 2
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Putting marketing people in charge of a complex technology company is a disaster. We see it time and time again. Look at Microsoft, another Seattle company, with a marketing guy in charge, it will have a bigger downfall than Boeing.

    Not quite. For B2C companies, having marketing people in charge is the right approach. This is why Apple is worth more than twice as much as Samsung. Microsoft’s problem has never been poor technology, but poor strategy (underestimating first the impact of the internet, then the impact of mobile), which has absolutely nothing to do with the engineer/marketer split.

    Australian commercial TV was never going to be profitable, because the domestic audience is too small, most of the top talent is in LA or London, and the ABC produces about as much quality content as the market can possible stomach. Relying on foreign imports and some cheap domestic crap to make quota is the only viable strategy.

    For B2B companies, on the other hand, you’re absolutely right.

  • 3
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Face it, Boeing’s been on a downhill run since they purchased McDonnell Douglas and got all their managers in the process. As the same managers who destroyed McDD established themselves in Boeing, the rot set in. They stopped listening to engineers and carved away the contingencies required to allow for the risk associated with new tech/processes, setting insanely short development cycles & marketing outrageously hyped promises while no-one within the organisation was allowed to say the emperor had no clothes.

    It’s not just the 787. The 737 MAX was brought to market in almost zero time in response to Airbus winning orders with the NEO. Boeing were pushing the path of a whole new design until they realised the market just wanted something a little better right now, not a pie-in-the-sky dream in the future. With tech specs still not even finalised the Boeing marketers were trumpeting huge savings that would be even better than the NEO. How could they have known?

    The big question is: Will Boeing’s management finally realise that their current approach is untenable and recover in time?

  • 4
    Achmad Osman
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Ben, I agree with your comments about the “looter/taker” principle. However, I see an even deeper problem where profit making companies bully the regulators into allowing some relaxing of the rules to suit a particular profit making venture.

    There are two examples of this – 1. Boeing bullied the FAA to allow the B777 to have extended ETOPS and allowed two things- it cornered the large jet market and put the quad A340 out of business. I have a base believe that it is risky to have such large two engined planes to fly such distances. As the fleets age, the chances of mishaps grows. In this latest case of the B787, Boeing told the FAA to leave the new stuff up to Boeing. The engineers in the FAA had to hold their tongues as the stakes for Boeing got bigger.
    2. Very large and high cruise liners are inherently unstable but very profitable to it’s operators. The Costa Concordia disaster skirted massive loss of life and only evaded is by a small outcrop of rock that stopped it from sliding into very deep water. Some passengers were saved six hours after the first left on lifeboats. Had a rock not kept the ship from sliding into deep water, the loss of life would have been very high. Ships like the Concordia continue to ply the oceans, they comply with the weak legislation, but it is another case of profit over safety.

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