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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Federal 787 review adds new dimension to Boeing-SPEEA talks

The formal Federal Aviation Administration review adds a new dimension to the stalled contract talks between Boeing and its engineers’ union, SPEEA.

Talks Thursday didn’t go well, with SPEEA issuing a short press release laste yesterday afternoon:

SPEEA negotiations with The Boeing Company continued Thursday with little progress on key issues.

Our teams reminded Boeing that with record profits, a completely funded pension, 4,200 airplanes on backorder and $20 billion of cash on hand, it doesn’t make sense to cut wage growth, cut pension growth, eliminate the pension for future hires and raise medical costs for everyone.

Signifying the importance of our efforts to secure a respectful contract with Boeing, IFPTE President Greg Junemann, visited the teams at the hotel and then attended today’s SPEEA Council meeting to reiterate the support of our international union.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m., Friday.

Boeing’s press release was even more terse:

For the second day in a row, negotiations teams from Boeing and SPEEA held contract talks with the assistance of federal mediators.

The mediators adjourned the meeting late this afternoon. Talks will continue Friday morning.

Boeing will have to rely on its engineers to sort through the review of the electrical system, which has now had four or five glitches, including the well-publicized fire in Boston on a Japan Air Lines 787.

With contract talks going nowhere fast, the prospects of a total breakdown in talks appears more and more likely, perhaps as soon as today. If this happens, look for a strike voted early next week. A walk-out could occur in early February.

If a strike happens, work by SPEEA engines on any 787 system review will stop or at the very least slow to a crawl. Boeing will have to rely on out-sourced engineers, if this is feasible. Engineers at the subcontractors responsible for the systems obviously would continue work, but at best the system review will be complicated by a SPEEA strike.

Clearly, the latest 787 problems add headaches to the contract talks that aren’t needed.