It seems that Boeing’s 787 attracts a lot of attention. Much of it is confusing. Let’s face it, this is a fantastic idea for an airplane. We know of nobody that does not want to see the program succeed.
That’s right, even contacts within Airbus want to see this plane succeed. The entire aerospace industry wants all the new ground-breaking programs to succeed. The industry is at a watershed period – new engines and new materials allow for truly wonderful things to come about. Airplanes are better than ever before and growing “greener” too. With that as a backdrop, let’s review Boeing 787 program and the “news” it generates.
There is a steady stream of information that seems to indicate all and any problems with the 787 is easily explained away as “normal”. But anyone spending even a moment of consideration realizes this is drivel at best, and really shallow at worst. Years of delay mean there are serious things going on – and every single item that slows down first delivery is costing Boeing hard cash in terms of compensation and an equally large amount of soft dollars in credibility. The only “normal” thing we can see here is that new airplanes are massively complex. Airbus’ problems with the A400M, A350 and A380 testify to this. Sukhoi has also seen delays in its SJ100. And Boeing is even seeing delays in its revised 747 – a design it surely knows inside out.
So put aside the sycophantic news and consider established, real, sources. Like this one from industry veteran Doug Norris. What do we really know? Boeing has been circumspect with 787 announcements. It is entitled to this, of course – but logic dictates that if there were good news, they would share it. Who wouldn’t?
It would seem clear that based on public facts that Boeing’s long and complicated supply chain is the program’s Achilles heel. Boeing has imply not been on top of its suppliers to the extent required. The decision to buy the South Carolina plant and bring this sub-contractor in house was clearly a reaction to continuing problems that could not be solved any other way. Boeing is committed to this supply chain and has to make it work. There are new lessons being learned along the way. Airbus’ complex supply chain is quite different than Boeing’s and comparisons are unfair.
The word this week that Air India wants over $800m in compensation for 787 delays was an eye opener, plus a return of more than $200m in progress payments, because so little compensation information has leaked out. Boeing has managed compensation leaks very well. While Air India has clearly got its own problems, it is able to use the public release of these numbers to pile on pressure. The lessons from other airlines using the media as a successful negotiating tool have not been lost on the industry. We should expect more of this.
So as we watch this program working its way to EIS, it is natural to feel sympathy for Boeing’s 787 team as it struggles to solve new problems that keep appearing. But don’t believe everything you read – the program is still going to see more issues crop up. This is the real “normal”.
The 787 is no doubt a great aircraft, but Boeing has made a complete mess of it. For Air India to demand and presumably get US$800 million in compensation is a real eye opener. If all of Boeing’s 787 customers demand similar compensation payments they could be brought to their knees.