Jan 27, 2013

Dreamliner 787: Management issues add to technical failures

While the integrity of the electrical systems and lithium ion batteries on 787 Dreamliners remain centre stage the failures of management at Boeing and public administration at the FAA are increasingly difficult to avoid

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

There seems to be an expectation in the US media that the FAA may approve a conditional return to service for the 787 while the NTSB pursues with as much time as it needs a full resolution of the causes and remedies of the two Dreamliner incidents that caused the type to be grounded.

It is difficult to believe this looking on from afar, since one more significant 787 incident before the JAL and ANA fire and emergency are understood could have dire consequences for Boeing and its Dreamliners.

But the NTSB is not the body that issues ADs, or groundings, or other operational interventions. Those actions are the prerogative of the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, while the National Transportation Safety Board is tasked with discovering causes and making recommendations.

It isn’t just the slow progress in investigating the incidents that is troubling the airline industry in general, but the disclosure in the NTSB’s most recent update that the fire under the rear cabin floor of the JAL 787 burned for at least 99 minutes, an event Boeing had declared to be impossible before the FAA certified the battery, from a Japanese company with no prior experience of making airliner batteries, to be safe.

And in a jet claimed to be ETOPS 330 minutes ready.

The rational and appropriate response to these significant incidents is that they must be understood and the necessary interventions made to prevent them happening again before the 787 returns to service.

Anything else would be madness.

In the wide frame view of these matters surely there is a managerial as well as regulatory dimension to the groundings. Boeing’s management of the 787 project was one that couldn’t tell the truth about, nor keep control over vital aspects of the Dreamliner program, for almost all of its existence.

We are looking at a management tragedy at Boeing and quite likely at regulatory failure in the FAA, since on the established facts in the NTSB briefings, it was ineffectual in certifying aspects of the Dreamliner as safe to operate.

That is not to say, however, that it was willfully negligent or indulgent. It just didn’t do the job entrusted to it.

While the focus on these particular incidents has been deeply technical in nature, there will be a time when managerial and administrative failures must be dealt with to fully sign off on this incredibly damaging and frustrating turn of events.



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5 thoughts on “Dreamliner 787: Management issues add to technical failures

  1. keesje

    .. and we haven’t thought about what airlines have to tell a well connected and informed flying public that has lots of alternatives..

  2. wildsky


    I thought this was a little churlish:

    “from a Japanese company with no prior experience of making airliner batteries”

    Perhaps you fell for the hatchet job on Yuasa done by the New York Times? Anyway, Yuasa is no “johnny come later” battery company and plays in a number of difficult applications. Clearly NASA has also been blind in its multiyear analysis of the battery proposals for the ISS – recently selecting Yuasa Li-ion batteries for the space station!

    I may be wrong, but my understanding is that Yuasa supplies the individual cells – it does not supply a complete battery. The charging system belongs to Securaplane and the monitoring system comes from somewhere else – I think the integration organisation needs to be clearly identified, since that is where the ultimate responsibility lies.

    There is an excellent discussion running on PRRuNe with some great resource citations on the battery technology – particularly illuminating for people like me who previously thought in terms of the relative simplicity of torch and car batteries.

    Anyway, this is going to end up as a little rerun of the Challenger debacle – so, if you are going to slip the knife in as you did, just make sure you stab the right person!

  3. wildsky

    monitoring system – Kanto
    integration – Thales

    so Boeing relied on Thales for the batteries – do you think that this was an unusual choice?

  4. Uwe

    cells – GS-Yuasa
    enclosure – GS-Yuasa ( mark on the enclosure )
    ( securaplane sells a similar looking Li-Ion battery in black
    charger – securaplane
    APU-Starter – securaplane
    monitoring system – Kanto
    electical systems – Thales
    physical integration – Boeing

    securaplane is US and burned down their lab while testing.
    ( in testing I would expect a cell to postal eventually but
    having your place burn down indicates carelessness )

    gs-yuasa activity in relation to Li-Ion as used here seems to sit in the US and the tinbox the cells came in looks definitely american.
    IMHO a japanese engineer would cringe.

    Thales may have been inserted as “firewall” imho.
    It is interesting to note that Thales has kept mum in this?

  5. johnb78

    It is interesting to note that Thales has kept mum in this?

    Not really – it’s what you’d expect unless their relationship with Boeing had broken down irretrievably.

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