Thoughts about the FAA-Boeing 787 program review

Here is the Airworthiness Directive.

As the Boeing 787 problems evolve from annoying, in-service teething issues into a fire, a full program review by the Federal Aviation Administration, a second battery issue and  now a grounding, the program review raises almost as many questions as it hopes to solve.

The FAA has never been adequately staffed, nor staffed with enough experts, to conduct program development and certifications without relying on the manufacturers and supply chains to provide analysis and expertise.

Since the creation of the FAA, this system has worked pretty well. Although some may argue that the FAA and the industry are too cozy—and sometimes there certainly appears to be justification in this criticism—it’s in nobody’s interest to screw up. The airplane makers and their stakeholders have to make safe airplanes. The FAA—the regulators—have to assure that the airplanes are safe. The airlines, who carry the passengers, clearly need safe airplanes.

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FAA grounds 787; first since DC-10

The US Federal Aviation Administration grounded all US-registered Boeing 787. There are only six–all operated by United Airlines–but equivalent regulators typically follow the lead, though they don’t have to.

This is the first ground of a US-made commercial airliner since the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was grounded in 1979, following a crash at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

The move was becoming more and more widely talked about in aviation circles. We’re on a multi-stop trip in Europe and more and more people we’ve visiting had been talking about the prospect of grounding.

Buckingham Research issued a note about a company that is in the process of producing a new lithium-ion battery design of later technology:

From the Buckingham note

We think BA does have alternatives if it decides to replace the current Li-Ion batteries.

  1. We recently spoke with EaglePicher, a competitor to GS Yuasa (787 battery maker).
  2. EaglePicher has a Li-Ion battery technology currently being certified for a business jet.
  3. EaglePicher notes it could have a 787 Li-Ion battery designed and certified in 12-15 months.
  4. EaglePicher’s Li-Ion battery conforms to current (and far stricter) FAA standards for Li-Ion batteries.
  5. Consequently, we think BA has design alternatives if it decides to replace the current battery.

Odds and Ends: KC-46A vulnerable to cuts; SPEEA talks resume today

While the aviation world is absorbed with the Boeing 787 drama, there actually is more going on.

KC-46A Defense Cuts: We were the first to report this when the White House issued its Sequestration hit list, but with Congress once again failing to do its job, Sequestration is over the horizon . Defense News has this update.

SPEEA Talks Resume: Boeing made its second contract offer Monday. SPEEA reviewed it yesterday. Talks resume today.  We’re very pessimistic, but SPEEA presented the following today:

With the desire to focus all attention on solving the emergent issues with The Boeing Company’s 787, the union representing engineers and technical workers today (Jan. 16) proposed incorporating areas of agreement from ongoing negotiations into existing contracts and extending the agreements for another four years.

This “best and final” offer by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, was presented as negotiations resumed at 1 p.m. with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) at the SeaTac Hilton.

SPEEA’s unprecedented offer would free Boeing and 23,000 engineers and technical workers from protracted and increasingly contentious negotiations that appear headed for a strike. It also allows the company and its technical workforce to focus on reaffirming confidence and proving the 787 is the reliable and safe product employees know it to be. Completing negotiations also helps Boeing stay focused on supporting customers, engineering the 767 tanker, 737 MAX, increasing 737 and 777 production rates and the other products needed for our national defense.

“These negotiations have been going on for more than a year,” said Tom McCarty, SPEEA president and Professional Team member. “At this point, we should move forward with the items upon which we can agree, and leave the status quo in place for the remaining items.”

In addition to the proposed contract extension, SPEEA requested that Boeing continue to meet under the auspices of FMCS mediation to tackle the difficult issues that have proven so divisive in these negotiations.

“Our hope is that we can work collaboratively to find solutions in a data-rich environment outside of the constraints of the collective bargaining process” said Ryan Rule, Professional Team member.

In making the proposal, SPEEA agreed to accept Boeing’s funding mechanism for the Ed Wells Partnership training program.  The status quo proposal continues to offset company medical costs through annual deductible increases based on salary growth.  To put to rest the pension issue, a major point of contention, SPEEA proposes to accept the same pension proposal that Boeing negotiated with the International Association of Machinists (IAM District 751). Finally, the contract extension offer is made with the understanding Boeing recognizes same-sex survivor pension benefits pursuant to Washington state law.

“With our contracts put to rest, we can all roll up our sleeves and work the issues facing the 787 and Boeing,” said Sandy Hastings, Technical Team member. “SPEEA members know this is a great airplane, and we are eager to prove this to our customers, the flying public and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).”