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Dreamliner: US analysis switches from technical to procedural

While Boeing continues to build undeliverable 787s at a faster rate for a future in which all will require some further modifications, the attention in America’s media seems to switched from the technically unresolved issues to a corrupted administrative process in the FAA outsourcing its tasks in certifying the jet to Boeing.

The most eloquent summary of this by far so far is this article in the Seattle Times.

It also gave rise to a supporting editorial which made a comparison of the breakdown in oversight and independent diligence at the certifying authority, the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA, to the US financial crisis.

Let’s look carefully at this. The US financial institutions lied and plundered their way into a disastrous melt down because they were trusted to do the right thing. Boeing lied so convincingly about the 787 that the world’s supposedly leading aviation administrator let it get away with claims that the type of battery failures that occurred in two 787s, one a JAL plane, the other with ANA were in fact impossible.

And it was believed, and trusted to do more than 90% of the certification process itself.

The editorial says:

It sounds like a sick libertarian joke: We don’t need independent government regulation of airliners, because if one crashes then customers will make the rational choice and not fly that plane. The free market works!

But this is no joke. The blockbuster story from the Seattle Times’ Kyung M. Song indicates that the Federal Aviation Administration pretty much let Boeing attest that Boeing’s revolutionary 787 Dreamliner was safe. It’s called “self-certification” and sounds like a recipe for disaster.

We’ve been here before. After the “financial services industry” was deregulated, capped by the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, the big banks and Wall Street went on a binge of cooking up exotic hustles in an ideological atmosphere of self-regulation. Not only did the banks themselves “train” regulators about such complex rackets as mortgages bundled in collateralized debt obligation derivatives, but the regulators were encouraged to let the banks regulate themselves. After all, the banks had every “rational” incentive to see that the system worked properly. Unfortunately, the banks’ real incentives were to rake in huge short-term profits and compensation dependent on practices that were neither safe nor sound. This was on display at every big bank, but especially at Washington Mutual, a thrift operating with barely any regulatory oversight.

Complexity equals fragility. And when government regulators are defanged, both dangers rise exponentially. In the case of the big banks, the world financial system was pushed to the edge of collapse. WaMu went down in the biggest banking failure in history. Trillions of dollars from taxpayers and the Federal Reserve were required to prevent a second Great Depression.

Another spectacular failure: Self-regulation in food safety.

Now comes Boeing, which told the FAA that the Dreamliner was safe. And the FAA allowed it to fly — until undeniable trouble forced the grounding. And remember, when this airplane flies again it will go into service with many airlines that have outsourced maintenance to cheap locales around the globe, again mostly unregulated.

Every twist of this story gets worse.

There is no doubt that many will be disturbed or unsettled by what the US mainstream media is saying louder and louder and with more anger with every day that passes in the 787 situation.

It is however a media that is generally far more distrustful of corporate spin than ours, in part because of the atrocities committed by its financial services sector, which inflicted a depth of pain on the US population not by and large felt in Australia.

The counter argument, that the FAA had no alternative but to rely on Boeing to the extent that it did fails at the very same point that Boeing itself concedes, that it, the supposed designer and maker of the jet, lost control of design and quality by outsourcing much of that work to outside or offshore entities.

On this basis, Boeing had no right to contribute to the extent that it did to the certification of an airliner that became an amalgam of external contributions. The additional costs and inherent delays in the FAA taking back actual technical responsibility for critical assessments of the 787 technologies and designs would have been much less than the costs that are now becoming apparent as the FAA and NTSB pursue answer and remedies.

Boeing put itself in a position of not having the quality of experience that produced the 707, the 747, or the 777. It hocked its future and then lied about it, to its customers and to the media.

Assuming the battery issues get sorted out, hopefully within a year, what other toxic discoveries might lie in wait in this much delayed wonder airliner?

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  • 1
    keesje
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Boeing seems to be pushing for a solution without knowing the root cause.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323452204578288020674930066.html

  • 2
    Graeme Hill
    Posted February 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I know it’s not an exact parallel; however I keep being reminded of the DC10 cargo door issue which ended up killing 346 people in the Turkish Airlines Flight 981 crash. You can argue that the cosy relationship between McDonnell Douglas and the FAA allowed that accident to happen.

  • 3
    LongTimeObserver
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    “Every twist of this story gets worse.”

    Bingo. Double bingo.

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