air safety

Feb 26, 2013

Dreamliner: Connecting the dots looks ugly

Scott Hamilton writing in Leeham News has

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Scott Hamilton writing in Leeham News has connected the dots when it comes to the when and hows of a return to service for the grounded 787s and mid year looks possible in an optimistic assessment, or worse if you see developments occurring at a more deliberate pace.

Hamilton has also found a troubling analysis by BB&T Capital Markets analyst Carter Leake who characterizes the proposed containment box for the lithium ion battery as a “super box” and Boeing’s entire proposed solution as a Rube Goldberg approach.

We view Boeing’s “Super Box” proposal as a reverse Rube Goldberg contraption that attempts to solve a very complex problem with an overly simple solution. We believe there is no doubt that Boeing’s proposal is the fastest way to get the 787 flying again, but if the NTSB plays the safety card in its upcoming interim report (which we think they will), the Super Box strategy will be a hard sell for weak-kneed politicians who will care less about the arcane rules of aircraft certification, and more about the open-ended political exposure of supporting a rush job. Worse, we believe the very powerful, but instantly credible, pilot unions will soon weigh in against any solution that contemplates a “contained fire” of any kind. This issue has unfortunately become very political, and we believe the 787 crisis is far from being resolved.

The full entry is here.

Leake is clearly respectful of Boeing’s efforts to get the 787s back in the air, while it fails to understand the political and regulatory imperatives that aren’t easily or neatly going to fit in a super box.

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11 thoughts on “Dreamliner: Connecting the dots looks ugly

  1. Ian Barlow

    Even if the NTSB approve this approach, informed passengers are going to vote with their feet and find an alternative.
    Would you put your wife & kids on such a plane?

  2. Ben Sandilands

    Only if they have been very very bad

  3. johnb78

    “ill-informed passengers”, I think you mean. Informed passengers will know that even if a 787 is theoretically less safe than an A330, the chances that your family will be harmed on the plane are still orders of magnitude lower than the chances they’ll be harmed in a car crash on the way to the airport.

  4. comet

    I had to Google to find out what a Rube Goldberg machine was (Wikipedia link).

    The second article links to a CNBC report, showing that Japan Airlines Chairman has got cold feet from Boeing (link to CNBC story). He now wants to end the era of Boeing being JAL’s sole aircraft vendor.

    We can see that Boeing not only has a problem with the public not wanting to fly Dreamliners. Boeing’s biggest customers have had enough. It’s a disaster for Boeing’s reputation, and it’s getting worse.

  5. Geoff

    FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta (I think) said today that he wanted to be 1000% certain before he lets the 787 back into the air.

    This sets a totally new benchmark for all of us who work in aviation safety – but don’t ask me to write the Safety Case!

  6. Geoff

    FAA Administrator Michael P.Huerta said today that he wanted to be 1000% sure before he lets the 787 back in the air.

    This is a totally new benchmark for those of us in aviation safety!

  7. Ian Barlow

    Of course, jb78 is right, but given the choice, would you put them on the 787 or another plane?
    It’s public perceptions that matter, not the facts.

  8. comet

    Airbus CEO John Leahy told Bloomberg that the A350 will gain exactly 60 kilograms by switching from Lithium Ion to Nicket Cadmium batteries.

    I assume you could double that weight gain for the Boeing 787, due to its extra electrical requirements. Let’s say the 787 would gain 120kg by adopting a conventional proven battery.

    Surely, there comes a time when adding 120kg (equal to the weight of one big bloke and his bag) is a smaller cost than the $200 million a day that Boeing is wasting by insisting on Lithium batteries and causing an entire model of plane to be grounded.

  9. Kapo

    @comet I don’t know anything about batteries, but I don’t believe the main issue is the weight anymore. It is more than likely that the physical dimensions of an alternate battery with same electrical specification would not be the same; consequently requiring other physical modifications (…and recertification) for the aircraft.

    Airbus has the luxury of “plug & play” in changing the battery technology due their product still being under development.

  10. bill mecorney

    What everybody so far is missing is this: Given the rate of failure, the Battery system is not acceptable with or without the kludge box… will have to re demonstrate its statistical reliability.

    Without passengers……. Boeing has two very difficult tasks ahead. Make it three.

    1. Demonstrate a system to prevent spread of fire.

    2. Demonstrate an operational reliability per the regulations.

    3. Sell the airplane. Again…..

  11. comet

    @Kapo: Yes, Airbus has a tremendous advantage of learning from Boeing’s mistakes, such as the switch to Nickel Cadmium batteries for the A350.

    Airbus has other advantages with the A350 over the 787. Airbus also learned from the decade long development of its A400M military transporter, which uses a high level of composite plastics, including a composite wing. Many of those processes will be transferred to the A350.

    Incidentally, the first production-ready A400 flies next week, with Airbus quoted yesterday as feeling confident about sales to Australia.

    Boeing didn’t have that experience prior to developing the 787, and even now, much of that 787 experience and knowledge is held by external partners, rather than in-house at Boeing. It’s all a sad mess, really.

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