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.

The development of the 787 was new ground for the FAA. It didn’t have experts in composites, and the ground-breaking nature of many of the systems and the batteries, tasked the FAA. Reliance on Authorized Representatives at Boeing and in the supply chain was a critical part of the FAA’s review of the program development and certification.

Throughout the development, we were told many times by persons familiar with the process that the FAA often times felt in over its head, particularly relating to the composite technology.

Now, following the Japan Air Lines fire in Boston, the FAA and  Boeing announced a full program review—not just that of the issues surrounding the battery—but including design and production in addition to the battery and related systems.

The obvious question, however, is that since the FAA is reviewing its own work and has to rely on Boeing and the supply chain ARs again, just how thorough can the review truly be?

Furthermore, with the prospect at the time of Boeing’s engineers going on strike, where would Boeing get engineering expertise if the union did walk out?

Doug Alder, a Boeing spokesman for the company relating to the labor negotiations, told us, “We have contingency plans and can use the full resources of the Boeing Company.”

Engineers who are not covered by the SPEEA contract, including from the Defense unit who were loaned to the 787 program, are one or two obvious resources. Contract engineers who also worked on the 787 are another.

But an aerospace engineer not connected with Boeing or SPEEA, who has been under contract at various times to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other aerospace companies, is skeptical.

“They need outside experts and SPEEA engineers,” the person tells us. “The key will be a review team leader and tone he sets. Who leads the effort will say a lot. That should definitely be an outsider.

“There aren’t that many qualified outside experts (except at Airbus). Where are they going to get them from?” he says. “This is where the extreme out sourcing really causes problems. How are they going to get their suppliers to be truthful? That has always been a problem in aeronautics. The 787 organization makes it much, much worse.”

SPEEA, not surprisingly, is also skeptical.

“There are four categories of people with signature authority and their own jurisdiction over which they have signature authority (they can’t perform the work of others),” Ray Goforth, executive director of the union, tells us:

  • Authorized Reps: 614
  • MRBDs (Material Review Board Designee):208
  • MRBs (Material Review Board): 667
  • Project Administrators: 19

“The Authorized Reps wield the signature authority of the FAA and are essentially irreplaceable.  They have to have very specialized skill sets, trusted working relationships with their FAA peers and  intimate knowledge of the specific parts they’re working on.  You can’t take somebody with AR authority over 737 landing gear and let them make AR decisions over 787 landing gear.”

Goforth said the MRBs and MRBDs deal with problems in production (major and minor deviations from plans).  The Project Administrators have a coordinating function with ARs, Goforth tells us.

This Reuters story has a comment from the FAA about in-sourcing replacements.

We asked Boeing about the process of reviewing its own work under this FAA plan. Further 787 events overtook this request, and as yet we’ve not had a response.

But the question of how the FAA, Boeing and its supply chain can efficiently and thoroughly review its work that is now in question remains.

SPEEA’s involvement may, or may not, be soon resolved. SPEEA proposed incorporating areas of agreement into the current contract and extending it for four years so all parties can turn their attention to solving the 787 issues. Boeing is considering the proposal. The two sides are to meet
Thursday at 9am.

26 comments on “Thoughts about the FAA-Boeing 787 program review

  1. Scott, I’m impressed by your ability to sum up what is currently at stake behind the smoke of Li-Ion batteries. Thank you for doing the job that many so-called analysts don’t do.

  2. I wonder if it would be possible to create a cross-industry team to sort this out. Obviously there would need to be some kind of non-disclosure guarantee in place, but small groups of experts selected from Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Sukhoi, etc. could probably assist the FAA more objectively than just relying on the self-same people who created the things they’re investigated.

    • Perhaps use different groups to tackle different details, with only the FAA having oversight – that might help diffuse suspicions regarding intellectual property.

  3. From the same Chief Engineer who claims that it is an “urban legend” that outsourcing created problems on the 787:

    In a teleconference with Reporters January 11th, BCA Chief Engineer Mike Delaney claimed that he didn’t need SPEEA engineers to conduct the FAA review of the 787. He asserted that managers and engineers from elsewhere in Boeing are capable of performing the work.

    TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

    AL SCOTT (Reuters): I’m wondering what contingencies do you have if there is a strike and you’re doing a review with the FAA. Isn’t engineering crucial to that process and what would you do if you had no engineers?

    MIKE DELANEY (Boeing Commercial Chief Engineer): Well, um, first off my engineering team is extremely valuable to me and to the company and to I think the airlines and our customers and quite honestly to the United States of America, so I have no qualms about that.

    Remember that we are the Boeing Company and I have access to significant resources across the entire corporation. And in fact remember I have a fairly large engineering team in California who works commercial airplanes including FAA authorized representatives and many of those people in management and I still have the significantly talented management team. So while we want to get to an agreement and we want to continue to figure out how to get from point A to point B, we don’t want just any deal we want a deal that works for the company both short term and long term and works for our employees quite honestly long term and the company. And so we obviously, like any company, have contingency plans for anything and we have contingency plans here and I don’t want to go into any more detail than that.

    NOTE: Reporters were then told there would be no more questions.

  4. For some background- a bit out of date I’m sure- but typical of BA PR

    http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/qtr_4_07/AERO_Q407.pdf

    Go to page 11

    electrical system
    The 787 uses an electrical system that is a hybrid
    voltage system consisting of the following voltage
    types: 235 volts alternating current (VAC), 115
    VAC, 28 volts direct current (VDC), and ±270 VDC.
    The 115 VAC and 28 VDC voltage types are traditional,
    while the 235 VAC and the ±270 VDC
    voltage types are the consequence of the no-bleed
    electrical architecture that results in a greatly
    expanded electrical system generating twice as
    much electricity as previous Boeing airplane models.
    The system includes six generators — two per
    engine and two per APU — operating at 235 VAC
    for reduced generator feeder weight. The system
    also includes ground power receptacles for airplane
    servicing on the ground without the use of the APU.
    The generators are directly connected to
    the engine gearboxes and therefore operate at a
    variable frequency (360 to 800 hertz) proportional
    to the engine speed. This type of generator is the . . .

    . . . engine and apu start
    The 787’s engine-start and APU-start functions
    are performed by extensions of the method that
    has been successfully used for the APU in the
    Next-Generation 737 airplane family. In this method,
    the generators are run as synchronous starting
    motors with the starting process being controlled
    by start converters. The start converters provide
    conditioned electrical power (adjustable voltage
    and adjustable frequency) to the generators during
    the start for optimum start performance.
    Unlike the air turbine engine starters in the
    traditional architecture that are not used while
    the respective engines are not running, the start
    converters will be used after the respective engine
    is started. The engine- and APU-start converters
    will function as the motor controller for cabin
    pressurization compressor motors.
    Normally, both generators on the APU and both
    generators on the engine are used for optimum
    start performance. However, in case of a generator
    failure, the remaining generator may be used for
    engine starting but at a slower pace. For APU
    starting, only one generator is required.
    The power source for APU starting may be
    the airplane battery, a ground power source,
    or an engine-driven generator. The power source
    for engine starting may be the APU generators,
    engine-driven generators on the opposite side
    engine, or two forward 115 VAC ground power
    sources. The aft external power receptacles may
    be used for a faster start, if desired.
    ++++

    I’m surprised that they use 115VAC for engine starting !!!

    may be a misprint considering then power nee4ded to crank over an APU to ignition speed.

  5. I worry about the Composite Bird Wings, they Flex over 26 feet, and back in 2004 The department of Transportation was Experimenting with making composite bridge pilings, and they failed over a period of testing, time will Tell.

  6. “the ground-breaking nature of many of the systems and the batteries, tasked the FAA” But hadn’t the FAA been involved in formulating the restrictions on passengers and shippers putting lithium-ion batteries in aircraft? I would think then that the issues of lithium-ion batteries would have been somewhat well-known to the FAA (and to Boeing).

  7. Pingback: The outsourcing debate behind the Dreamliner debacle—and the memo Boeing execs should have read – Quartz

  8. What role does the need for offsets with foreign governments play in the diffusion of the supply chain all over the world? When countries say we aren’t going to buy your plane unless you make part of it here in our country are their demands driving up everyone’s costs and increasing the probability of poor integration of systems and parts?

  9. Pingback: Is outsourcing to blame for Boeing’s 787 woes?

  10. GET RID OF THE UNIONS AND EVERYBODY WINS GET RID OF UNION BOSSES WHO BETRAIL THE COMPANYS THAT THEY WORK FOR AND SAVE MONEY ON UNION $ THAT LIVE LIFE OF GLORY.

    • Then Safety will go out the window! Then you will have Slave labor, I know because I am a retired safety Director. CEO’s don’t know a Damn thing about Safety and won’t do a thing, until they have a bad accident, then OSHA, has to come in and clean up their act. When after 911 happen I couldn’t believe those workers who were cleaning up that mess they were not wearing self contained Respirators. That whole site should of been written up and Fined! In Fact the workers know nothing about safety either, until their “number comes up” It seems how they think..

    • Is Jeff short for Jefferson Davis? It is the betrailing union that put language into the work rules requiring employees to stop when asked to do an unsafe act or perform and authorize substandard work. The unions at Boeing are the conscience of the company and the flying public’s best friend. Only in that can you find glory.

      • “The unions at Boeing are the conscience of the company and the flying public’s best friend.”

        Oh get off the union label BS, jim.

        There are thousands of aviation based shops and small businesses around the country that have the safety of the flying public as their #1 priority. There are also union employees at some companies that constatly produce substandard work. Fortunately they are a very small minority of he union work force. But they are there. The point is it does not take union employees at Boeing, or anywhere else to assure the airplanes and airplaes parts they design/make ae as safe as they can possibly be.

        I’m guessing a SPEEA member signed off on delivering a JL B-787 that some 3 weeks later would have a battery fire in BOS. No, he/she is not responsible for the incident. Nor, am I blaming him/her for what happened. They did their job at the time, whether a union member, or not. I am just showing how rediculus your statement is.

  11. jdlaughead :
    Please read this report, and when they tested those wings, in what environment did they test them, going from 95 degrees to 88 below degrees.from ground level to 55,000 feet, where Composite material fails is in the Freeze-Thaw cycle effect. I am a member of the EAA, since 1973 and knew Ken Rand and talked to him at Oshkosh, he developed the first composite plane the KR-1, and the KR-2, which he bought the Farm in, also was at Oshkosh in 2011 and have pictures of the plane landing, and went through it with all the computers.
    http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/structures/04043/04.cfm#toc129416912

    You DO know the difference between GFRP ( per the report listed ) and CFRP ( or composite ) as used and processed by most of the aerospace industry ?

    By the way- the navy A-6 aircraft have major exposure to wet weather,m humid storage, and cold and hot temperatures

    And yes the navy and Boeing and ….. were and are well versed in moisture issues in carbon composites.

    So much so that we could not use water cooling when grinding/cutting composite structure with brazed diamond abrasive cutting tools.

    But they do allow a certain amount of water jet cutting of plies, and when parts are autoclaved at high temp and external pressure to vacuum bagged parts, excess moisture boils off .

    And when plating composites, special consideration is given re silver inks prior to copper or gold plating.

    And that was two decades ago !!

  12. kc135topboom :
    “The unions at Boeing are the conscience of the company and the flying public’s best friend.”
    Oh get off the union label BS, jim.
    There are thousands of aviation based shops and small businesses around the country that have the safety of the flying public as their #1 priority. There are also union employees at some companies that constatly produce substandard work. Fortunately they are a very small minority of he union work force. But they are there. The point is it does not take union employees at Boeing, or anywhere else to assure the airplanes and airplaes parts they design/make ae as safe as they can possibly be.
    I’m guessing a SPEEA member signed off on delivering a JL B-787 that some 3 weeks later would have a battery fire in BOS. No, he/she is not responsible for the incident. Nor, am I blaming him/her for what happened. They did their job at the time, whether a union member, or not. I am just showing how rediculus your statement is.

    actually it was probably MORE than one union member- Virtually ALL the ARs are part of the SPEEA bargaining unit. Of course a few may just be agency fee payers, etc

    But they ARE represented by SPEEA.

    All of which has zip to do with the union bashing by the trolls

    Most such trolls do not know the difference between old time ” shop” or ” trade” unions such as teamsters, longshoreman, dockworkers, etc and a union of Professionals.

    Nor do they know about the differences in seniority. For SPEEA, after 20 years, one gets a minimum rating one step above the bottom absent a real screw up. At 30 years, one rating is in the top tier ( and another kind of rating can be in the middle )

    Lets not forget, that the typical 20 to 30 year employee has been thru several boom and bust cycles in which the lower ranked ones get whacked first.

    Borrowing from the Hart Smith report

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2011/02/04/2014130646.pdf

    “A corollary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that “perfect efficiency can be achieved only when no work is being done”. It seems strange that, in the most hi-tech of industries, it is not appreciated that this same inescapable law of nature applies equally to business activities as well.”

    The Chicago Offices are VERY efficient in making lots of money!!

  13. CEO McNerney, Harry C. Stonecipher and most of the board is from GE and not from MDC

    http://247wallst.com/2013/01/17/time-for-boeing-ceo-mcnerney-to-resign-its-board-should-be-ashamed/

    Alan Mulally is the father of the 787 program, not the guys from MDC

    The 787 has been in the news for the late 4 years now, before that it was 737-700 and KC-767 export tanker

    http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20070519/NEWS01/705190744/0/SEARCH

    No matter where the parts coming from Boeing and the FAA are still required to inspected the parts
    and Boeing is required to installing the parts correctly!

    Installing engines, fuel lines, Wiggins fuel line connectors , installing o-ring, tightening fuels connectors and lock wire, Hooking up APU, power panels, assembly is aircraft 101 that been around since the 707 dating back to 1958 or the Wright brother of 1903

    June 4, 1995 Is The Faa Up To The Job? — A Question Of Safety — Do Airplane Makers Dominate Regulators?

    http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19950604&slug=2124639

    The Seattle history file shown the FAA fine against Boeing

    http://search.nwsource.com/search?from=ST&query=faa+fine+boeing&x=5&y=10

    Last year Boeing was fine one million dollars for not installing the 777 oxygen system per drawing
    In 1990’s Boeing was fine 26.2 millions for not assembling the 757 per dawning

    Ron Woodard was fire by CEO Harry C. Stonecipher for all the problems with the 737-700

    The 787 is not the first program to be outsource to other aerospace company and supplier
    the KC-135A in 1957, 747 in 1969, 757 &767 in 1972, 737NC in 2005, 777 in 1991, 787 in 2003

    Boeing could have replace all the lithium-ion batteries 198 by now that only used on the 787 was the same battery that used on 737,747,757.767, 777

    With leaky fuel lines lithium-ion battery NASA could use the 787 as a replacement for the Space Shuttle

    Just wait until Boeing installed lithium-ion battery on the kc-46 tankers

    What is the weight saving of a all electric aircraft vs aircraft the used bleed air
    The cost and the weight of those aircraft generator, wiring, computers ect

    The first six 787 where delivery with the older type battery ship 9 was the first 787 to have the lithium-ion battery
    Boeing knew about the battery problems in 1997 and the main electric panels mother board where made in Mexico in an FAA approve factory?

    But the Head Line News say it’s all about the 787 design! Workmanship alone with the last 4 years of production delay
    The FAA has know about the problems with lithium ion battery since 2007 see
    DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Federal Aviation Administration, 14 CFR Part 25
    [Docket No. NM375 Special Conditions No. 25-07-10-SC]

    http://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/boeing-looks-to-bo

    http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/AVWebInsider_Batteries_20

    Phil Condit was the General Manager of the 777 program division and was the only Hand-On manager at Boeing (in many ways)
    This is a GE aircraft correct, Ceo and board from GE just like the other GE house hold product, refrigerator, stove, GE Appliances ect ,
    GE bring good things to life
    It’s not too late installed Solar panels or several Squirrel Cages to power the 787s

    Time to builds the 777-100

  14. Pingback: Odds and Ends: NTSB on 787 Certification; SPEEA countdown « Leeham News and Comment

  15. Pingback: Odds and Ends: FAA outsourced to Boeing; responding to fires-land within 15 minutes « Leeham News and Comment

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