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Feb 20, 2011

The 787 runs out of time and lies

There has been a noticeable change in media tactics being used by Boeing in relation to the 787 program, with the emphasis on managing the messages about a program in which the risk of

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

There has been a noticeable change in media tactics being used by Boeing in relation to the 787 program, with the emphasis on managing the messages about a program in which the risk of failure is becoming painfully obvious.

Candor has replaced evasion in the articles appearing in the US media. “Sources” have been replaced by quoted Boeing executives.

It’s almost March 2011 and the latest word from within Boeing is that the first of its 787 Dreamliners will be delivered to All Nippon Airways by the end of November, this year.

Last September the same claim was made officially except that first delivery was going to be by the end of November last year, almost three months ago. That was two months before non-existent foreign object damage was invented as the probable cause of a very serious fire under the floor of the rear cabin of test fleet 787 ZA002 near, fortunately very near, Laredo in Texas.

The fact that the official guidance from Boeing remains that first delivery will be sometime between July 1 and October 31 of this year, (and with full ETOPS 180 certification)  shows that candor hasn’t yet replaced evasion in the same old tired wheeling out of the truth in tiny doses, one delay after another.

But in terms of the bigger picture for the Dreamliners there is something else going on in Boeing media manipulation. In recent weeks the mainstream US media has started running very detailed reports quoting Boeing executives as how they bungled the outsourcing of much of Dreamliner project to partners who not only took over much of the manufacturing, but also the designing of sections of the 787, and a proportionate share of the profits.

Some examples of this include a Reuters feature, and another feature in the LA Times. Other similarly detailed and officially sourced articles have appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, while The Seattle Times has been all over the 787 issues for the last year as the gap between the company commentary and the reality confronting many of its readers in their working lives widened.

This is not the result of widely scattered reporters suddenly going ‘ding’ and writing the same story. It is the result of Boeing seeking to place a rather different message in the media than the lies and evasions that were shamelessly promulgated by the company from 2005 about both the progress and performance characteristics of the 787 family.

Boeing’s mea cupas over outsourcing stop short of calling  this for what is was, the deliberate non-Americanisation of the most important and technologically ambitious airliner it has ever launched.  Boeing wraps itself in the US flag in its rhetoric when it needs to get attention on Capitol Hill, but somehow believed that its real role would become one of gluing together the foreign made, designed and owned parts of the plastic fantastic 787 like a giant kit plane in Seattle, and get away with it.

Or as the LA Times article puts it:

Boeing executives now admit that the company’s aggressive outsourcing put it in partnership with suppliers that weren’t up to the job. They say Boeing didn’t recognize that sending so much work abroad would demand more intensive management from the home plant, not less.

“We gave work to people that had never really done this kind of technology before, and then we didn’t provide the oversight that was necessary,” Jim Albaugh, the company’s commercial aviation chief, told business students at Seattle University last month.

Consider Boeing’s words, and actions to date, very carefully. This is a Boeing management that cannot deliver new airliner projects on time or to specification.  It is a management that enunciated the hyperbole of the Dreamliner to perfection , including the myth that the particular pathway it was following in the design of a high composite airliner using carbon fibre reinforced plastics would result in a lighter, stronger, more easily maintained and repaired airliner, none of which appears to be true.

The media and the airline customers are being set up to accept further delays in the certification of the Dreamliner, a jet in which the very notion of less metal has been turned on its head by the need to strengthen and render lightning proof most of the design with extra metal , and in which the promise of more humid cabin air has become a nightmare in which moisture retention is an issue for its electrical systems as well as passengers drenched in their own sweat.

While Boeing may well have been forced by the continued delays to the program to come clean about the failings of management in relation to outsourcing, it has inevitably set the stage for serious questions about the actual performance and operational viability of the ‘plastic fantastic.’

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