Odds and Ends: Boeing worker mentors famed bandit; 787 test flights; restoring the brand

The Barefoot Bandit: In a nice break from all-787-all-the-time, we ran across this heart-warming story of a Boeing worker mentoring the infamous Barefoot Bandit. Colton Harris-Moore, a troubled teenager, spent two years on the run from the law and became famous for a series of burglaries, often barefoot, and thefts, including stealing boats and planes.

We know someone who has a second home on Camano Island and who befriended a young Harris-Moore before the crime sprees began. Our friend described the youth as extremely bright and, as the media has described, in a very troubled home situation. This friend often provided food to Harris-Moore and after crime sprees began, in which homes on Camano were burglarized, our friend’s home was skipped by Harris-Moore.

787 Test Fights: Two are planned this week, according to Reuters. See this story. Separately, The Wall Street Journal has two stories of note. The first is about Boeing’s effort to restore the brand. The second refers to the 787 situation but is a broader piece about fighting fires on airplanes. Both are via Google News so readers should be able to access each without the subscription.

Odds and Ends: NTSB issues 787 report today; FAA readies OK; A350-800 future debated

NTSB Report Comes Today: The National Transportation Safety Board issues its preliminary report on the Boeing 787 JAL fire today, around 11am ET.  Here is the NTSB 787 page that has been updated throughout the process. We’re traveling and may not be able to pick up the report as it comes out, so Readers, please do so and post in Comments; we’ll upgrade to a fresh post when able.

FAA readies OK for 787 plan: The FAA is expected to give Boeing the green light to begin implementing its proposed plans to fix the 787 battery issues. We expect this approval to be Friday or next week. Extensive testing will be required, but the length remains unclear. The NTSB report may or may not have implications.

Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation (the FAA is part of DOT), still has questions. See this Wall Street Journal article via Google News, so it should be readable to all. A key paragraph:

[P]ushback against a quick final decision from Mr. LaHood—who oversees the FAA and must sign off on any package of fixes—and from regulators in Japan threatens to delay the more important resumption of Dreamliner commercial flights for months, according to industry and government officials. (Emphasis added.)

And:

A team of FAA technical experts is urging preliminary approval of Boeing’s plan, and FAA chief Michael Huerta appears likely to agree within a week or so, the officials said. That would establish a framework that could allow Boeing to begin test flights as soon as the third week in March. Results from those flights would have to be analyzed by agency officials and reviewed by Secretary LaHood and his staff before Boeing could seek permission to retrofit aircraft and seek new certification. Routine certification tests for batteries take four or five weeks, according to industry officials.

A350-800 future debated: Qatar Airways’ vociferous CEO, Akbar Al-Baker says Airbus is dropping the A350-800. Airbus says it’s not. (Also here.) Aeroturbopower has this interesting post on the subject.

Bombardier Reveals CSeries today: Bombardier will have its “reveal” of the CSeries today in a ceremony that isn’t quite a roll-out in the party-like fashion usually accompanying a new aircraft type. Rather, invited guests will visit the assembly line to see the completed aircraft. BBD isn’t taking the airplane off the production line so it doesn’t lose production time. The Wall Street Journal has this description via Google News.

Clues emerge on 787 service from FAA meeting

Clues emerged from a variety of news reports following the meeting Friday between Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration that point to when the 787 will be able to reenter service.

The most tantalizing: Boeing will need up to eight weeks from the FAA green light before the 787 will return to service.

Since we don’t expect the FAA to approve proposed remedies any time soon (a relative term, to be sure), we think it could easily be May or June before the 787 returns to service. The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board isn’t likely until the first half of March. We believe the FAA will want to see and digest this report before drawing is own conclusions. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will take the FAA to review the NTSB findings and  Boeing’s proposal.

Assuming the FAA concurs with the Boeing recommendations–which may or may not be a safe assumption–what kind of testing will the FAA require, both in the lab and in the air, and how long will this take? Only after all this would the FAA green light the fixes and the “up to eight weeks” timeline kick in.

Here are the key news articles and some key excerpts:

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Boeing hopes for March or April return for 787; we think this is challenging

Update: Aviation Week’s Guy Norris has this detailed article in which the third week of March is identified as a target date for the 787 to re-enter service.

Original Post:

Boeing hopes to return the grounded 787 to the skies in March, according to  customer briefings, or April, according to news reports, following a planned briefing to the Federal Aviation Administration tomorrow.

See The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) and The Seattle Times for details of the FAA briefing and Boeing’s planned program for a permanent fix. These articles suggest an April return to revenue service. The New York Times has this report. Reuters has this report.

A customer we talked with who has been briefed by Boeing said the target date is next month, which squares with another customer briefing we previously reported.

Either date sounds aggressive. The FAA has to review the proposals and satisfy itself that the approaches proposed by Boeing are safe to precede a redesign of the battery. Having been proved wrong once before, we think the FAA isn’t going to rush to judgment this time and (in any event) being the government, nothing moves quickly.

Then there is Sequestration, due to take effect March 1. The FAA’s track record on approving changes proposed by supply chains on unrelated matters that require Supplemental Type Certificates is already excruciatingly slow. Layoffs following Sequestration are expected to hit the FAA’s research and development and will this affect Boeing?

Also an unknown is the investigation into the 787 JAL fire by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB’s preliminary findings are expected in the first half of March. Will the FAA want to wait for this before moving? Furthermore, the NTSB has already criticized the FAA certification of the battery and related systems in its press briefings and is examining the certification process as part of its investigation. The tension between the FAA and NTSB is long-standing. Will the FAA take more time because it’s one of the targets of the investigation?

Having initially declaring the 787 safe, only to ground the aircraft within days, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the plane won’t be returned to service until the FAA (which is part of Transportation) is “1,000%” sure the airplane is safe. It’s a ridiculous statement, but has LaHood painted the FAA into a corner that will delay a decision about Boeing’s proposals?

Finally, having issued Special Conditions in approving the battery in the first place, will the FAA want more Special Conditions for the fix and the battery redesign?

Any and all of this will take time. There certainly is a recognition on the part of the FAA about the economic impact to the airlines from the grounding.

We don’t think this will move quickly. March-we don’t think so. April-maybe, but challenging.

Fast-moving action on 787 in advance of NTSB briefing Thursday

There have been a number of developments within the past two hours on the Boeing 787 situation. Unfortunately, the key articles are from The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

  • Boeing has a series of design changes it is proposing to the FAA to serve as an interim fix to mitigate fire risk until a permanent solution is found. The WSJ reports that these include spacing the battery cells; adding some rigidity to prevent shifting from vibrations and interfering with electronics; eventually shifting to a new battery altogether; fire containment; and more.
  • The WSJ reports that the FAA also wants longer warning times to alert the crew to any problems.
  • The paper reports the FAA was still weighing approving a test flight; we heard on the radio after the WSJ posting that this has been done.
  • The paper says Boeing hopes to be able to ship new batteries to airlines with grounded airplanes by the end of this month. This might mean flight resumptions in March.
  • Moisture protection is also an element of the interim fix.

The WSJ also reported that the NTSB is examining the FAA’s approval and testing process, but we don’t consider this to be particularly new news.

The NTSB has a briefing Thursday at 11am EST. We’ll doing live updates on this blog.

Odds and Ends: 787 Update; SPEEA Council meets for membership vote; Asian caution

787 Update: The Wall Street Journal has this lengthy article on the twin-investigations of the US and Japanese authorities into the Boeing 787 incidents. (Subscription required.) Bloomberg News this long article profiling Boeing CEO Jim McNerney’s oversight of the Boeing probe. The Seattle Times has this article about the probe.

This story takes a different angle on the 787 challenges, focusing instead on the coming shortage of engineers.

SPEEA Council Meets Today: The top officials of SPEEA, Boeing’s engineers’ union, meets today to decide on sending the Best and Final Boeing offer to members for a vote to approve or disapprove the contract. A strike vote is also likely to be included.

Caution on Asian Airlines: Germany’s DVB Bank, a major player in commercial aerospace financing and analysis, raises caution about the growth plans of the new Asian airlines, according to this article by Reuters.

American logo reaction mixed: Forbes has this story about the new American Airlines livery, quoting a number of design professionals. This link has a number of suggestions, almost of which which we like better than the tail paint American purchased for God knows how much money.

Odds and Ends:Unsurprisingly–More on the Boeing 787

Unsurprisingly: More on the 787

We’re at the Airline Economics conference in Dublin and not surprisingly the Boeing 787 was part of the cocktail party talk Sunday night.

There is a certain level of bewilderment: Why didn’t t fail safe systems prevent overheating and fire of the batteries? The ANA battery apparently was subject to an over-charge while the JAL battery, according to the NTSB, was not. This adds to the mystery and leads to the Big Question, how long will the 787 be grounded?

The answer, of course, is  not known because the cause of the two incidents is  not know and therefore  neither is the fix. But the general feeling is the 787 will be grounded between two and six weeks.

We shall see.

Meanwhile….

The Seattle Times has this story in which some top industry people suggest Boeing execs are in denial over the 787. These people are unidentified, while another–Gordon Bethune–thinks the FAA overreacted by grounding the airplane.

Aviation Week has this story discussing the nuances of the FAA review of the 787 design, production and certification process.

Aviation Week also has this story about the focus of the investigation on the lithium ion battery.

The Wall Street Journal has this story reporting that the JAL 787 battery did not exceed its design capacity. Subscription required.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Congress apparently is ready to have hearings on the Boeing 787. This is premature, and really not necessary in any case.

The forum PPrune, which is pretty well regarded for its high-brow, technical discussions, has a whole host of commentary on the 787 issues. Particularly useful are illustrations and discussion of the battery charging system. The link is here.

More Odds and Ends: Aircraft list prices, airline break-even

Aircraft List Prices: It took some doing, but we’ve collected the list prices of all the major commercial airplanes. The comparisons are interesting. We’ve tabulated these into seat categories.

List prices, of course, have no relationship to what customers actually pay. Discounts of 25%-30% are common and really good customers–like Southwest Airlines for Boeing–have been known to get discounts of up to 60%.

There are several notables in this list:

  • Compare the pricing of the C919 and the MS-21 to the Airbus and Boeing products;
  • Compare the Q400NG to the ATR-72-600;
  • Compare Airbus to Boeing; and
  • Compare CSeries to 737-600/700 and there isn’t that much difference; the gap is wider compared with Airbus.

Is there any particular point to this? Not really–it’s just one of those facts that intrigue us and a host of aviation geeks.

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