Readers skeptical of detailed Boeing plans to fix the 787 battery issues

Readers aren’t convinced that Boeing has turned the corner on the planned 787 battery fixes detailed last week in two press conferences.

The results come as some surprise to us. Despite some messaging we thought fell short, we felt overall Boeing outlined a pretty strong set of fixes that were done probably in concert with the FAA Seattle office. We published polling Monday; here are the results as of this morning. These are actually worse than our polling a month ago, when readers were evenly split whether they would resume flying the 787 when it returns to service.

Clearly, Boeing and the airlines have a job to do with public perception to restore confidence in the airplane.

These polls admittedly are not scientific.

Does Boeing have good solutions to the 787 battery issues?

Answer Percent
No, Boeing still hasn’t gone far enough 55%
Yes, the press conferences outlined good solutions 28%
I don’t know 17%

Having heard or read the details, will you fly the 787 when it returns to service?

Answer Percent
Yes, I now have confidence in the 787 and the solution 34%
No, I still want to wait 1-2 years for proof 51%
Maybe–I’m not sure 15%

When will the 787 return to revenue service?

Answer Percent
Weeks, like Boeing thinks 7%
May 23%
June 25%
July 16%
August-December 2013 29%

KING 5 News (Seattle, NBC) reported that the 787 test flight planned for yesterday did not happen, but had no explanation. An aerospace engineer we asked said, “I would gather that since this is a “one shot to get it right” flight, BA is being rather overly cautious.  So I imagine it doesn’t take much for them to cancel a flight and wait for optimal conditions.”

Timing seems critical, however, if Boeing is to meet its goal of returning the 787 to service soon.

Reuters had this yesterday:

Boeing last week unveiled a new battery system and predicted the 787 would fly again within weeks rather than months.

Asked whether Boeing was presenting a best-case scenario, Osamu Shinobe, the architect of All Nippon Airways’ strategy to put the fuel-efficient 787 at the centre of the airline’s fleet planning, said, “That’s what we understand it to be.”

“The problem is we don’t know how long the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will take to finish its checks (on the new battery system),” he said in an interview.

For Boeing to meet its target, Shinobe explained the plane maker needs to complete certification testing this week, and gain quick FAA approval followed by an airworthiness directive soon after. It would then have to transport all the parts and equipment to 787s parked around the world to begin installing the new batteries. Boeing has said that could take a week per plane.

A side note: Weather conditions this week in the Seattle area are forecast to be pretty abysmal, with sometimes heavy rains and high winds. Whether this will be a factor for the test flight is unknown.

Bloomberg has this today:

Norwegian Air is among airlines affected by the idling of the global Dreamliner fleet on Jan. 16 in the wake of incidents with lithium-ion batteries. While Boeing has proposed a fix, it hasn’t given new delivery dates for planes the Oslo-based company should get from April, Kjos said in an interview.

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“There’ll be a delay that hits us on the first two aircraft,” Kjos said. Norwegian Air has leased two Airbus SAS A340s to provide cover, one for two months, the other for three, during which time the 787s should arrive, he said.

This suggests NAS doesn’t expect its 787s until June or July at the earliest.

New battle breaks out between Airbus and Boeing–in advertising

A new battle has broken out between Airbus and Boeing, this time with a sharp (and perhaps unprecedented) advertisement by Airbus accusing Boeing of outright lying.

(Click to enlarge.)

We don’t remember ever seeing this direct assault by one of the Big Two OEMs on the other. We certainly recall advertisements in the debate over two engines (Boeing 777) vs four (A340)–but to call the competitor a liar like this? It’s new territory, at least in print.

Airbus has been calling Boeing a liar in conferences for its representations for years.

As regular readers of this column know, we’ve been especially skeptical of Boeing claims, based on conversations we’ve had with airlines that have analyzed the aircraft involved, and in some cases those which operate both fleet types. The neutral arbiters–these customers–universally tell us Boeing claims are exaggerated and that the costs between the two OEM’s narrow-body aircraft are about equal. The costs between the Boeing 747-8I and the A380 are also exaggerated by Boeing, these companies tell us.

Furthermore, we’ve cast doubt on Boeing’s reliance of US DOT Form 41 data (which in itself is distorted and unreliable) and a study in Europe that looks at data from 2006-2009, data that is clearly out of date.

At the same time, we’ve taken Airbus to task over its parameters in concluding the A330-300 is a better airplane economically than the forthcoming 787-9.

At ISTAT Europe in September, an official from Virgin Atlantic publicly challenged Boeing’s Randy Tinseth over economic data Tinseth presented comparing Boeing and Airbus aircraft. Tinseth, according to those present, merely responded that he stood by the numbers.

Bloomberg has this story on the controversy. Reuters has this story.

In a way, the entire fight is silly. No airline or lessor will buy Airbus or Boeing aircraft based on these sort of claims. The airlines run their own economic analysis and the lessors are more concerned about lease rates and residual values. The entire conference and advertising effort is for consumption by uninformed journalists, financiers and aviation geeks. Those who actually understand the nuances tend to dismiss the claims of either manufacturer (as we do) and run our own analysis or rely on the airlines and lessors for impartial information.

The market has spoken. Airbus currently has sold about 1,400-1,500 A320neos to Boeing’s 1,000 737 MAXes. Airbus also, in recent years, has sold more current-generation A320s than Boeing has sold 737NGs. For the Very Large Aircraft, Airbus has an 86% market share of passenger airplanes.

These statistics tell more than anything Airbus or Boeing manipulate.