Robert Wall has this short article that raises an interesting point. Tom Enders, the CEO of Airbus, “bemoans” the slow pace of change in aviation. He is quoted as saying that the aviation industry has forgotten how to “take risks and manage” them properly.
There’s a lot to be said for that. Airbus had its own issues with the A380 production management and the A400M program design. It remains to be seen how challenging the A350 production becomes, but there is ample evidence that the challenges are just beginning.
Bombarier says its CSeries program is on time but margins are largely gone.
Boeing’s 787 and 747-8 and the commercial-defense KC-767 International programs were disasters. The 737 MAX design is already running later than Boeing originally suggested upon announcement (a matter of weeks so far) and Boeing is veering toward derivatives for the 737 and 777 rather than new airplanes in part because of the 787 and 747-8 delays and costs.
Airbus elected to proceed with a re-engined A320 rather than go for a new airplane.
Is Enders correct? Have OEMs lost their edge and are now going to play it safe?
There has been an excess of risk taking and poor management to allow for some breathing room and reconsideration of future direction.
Given all the delays and other obstacles that are current, there is no need for anything but focus on production and efficiencies. innovation will follow at the appropriate time
The risk wasn’t “Taken”. People at the helm didn’t know ( and didn’t care? ) that it existed.
The issue is execution, rather than risk-taking.
Aerospace products are complex and heavily engineered. At the turn of the century, Boeing pointed to core competencies of project management and system integration. Add in technical judgment up to the Chief Engineer level, and you get the necessary elements to manage risk and deliver value to customers.
On the business side, one or two (or three) failed programs in a row will drain financial resources and make the Board of Directors gun-shy, reducing the potential for subsequent projects.
Airbus has been whining about this “slow pace of development” for over a decade. One of the key points of Airbus Concurrent Engineering started back in the mid 90s was to reduce airplane program development cycle times. Guess it didn’t work out, eh Tom?
I think Tom Enders is absolutly correct in this. If we look at the two most technology advanced airplanes flying today, the A-380 and the B-787, they are not as great as an advancement as the Comet and B-707 were in their day. During WWII, it took North American just a few months from drawing the P-51 to a flying prototype. The most advanced fighters of WWII, the Me-262 and Me-163 took about two and a half years for the Me-262 and just one year for the Me-163 to achieve IOC. Even the most advanced bomber, the B-29 only took two years to enter combat (although it did have serious engine problems initially). It wasn’t just airplanes. Germany develope the world’s most advanced tanks in WWII, in record time. Designing and building warships also advanced, the US alone built some 3400 warships and 5000 merchant ships, including nearly 2500 “Liberty” ships, and another 1500 “Victory” ships, between 1936 and 1945. Germany alone designed and built some 2000 U-Boats, in 11 different classes or versions.
Even the initial version of the B-747 only took 4 years from launch developement to flying in the late 1960s. Even a flegling company called Airbus SAS developed their first airliner, the A-300 in 5 years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Why was it that engineers of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s could develope huge advancements in airframes, airfoils (wings), engines, and commerical comfort into airplanes from sliderules and our generation, with all our computing strenght cannot?
Today we cannot even reengine an exsisting airplane in less than 5 years. We reengined the DC-8, KC-135, and B-737-ORIGINAL in less time than that in the 1980s.
When Boeing developed the B-367-80, which later became the KC-135A and B-707, the then Boeing BOD bet the companies entire worth, some $30 MILLION in 1954, on the project. They did it again in 1966 for the B-747.
Today, both the A-380 and B-787 costs some $20 BILLION each to develope, and the A-380 took 7 years, the B-787 took 8 years to get the first one “out the door”.
Why is that? Because the “bean counters” and in some cases, the PR folks, are in charge now. Their “do it cheaply first and do it quickly second” and the PR “make it flashy and spectacular” attitude is a failure. This was never more apparent than on July 8, 2007, or the still birth Sonic Cruiser. These practices end up in increased costs because engineering tasks have to be done again, often from scratch. The “bean counters” are the guys and gals who have management’s ear. Management won’t go to the restroom without checking with the “bean counters” first to see how much of a loss in production it will cost.
So, what is different from WWII and the 1960s and today? It is who is running the world’s two biggest airplane makers, and who they listen to.
Enders is also right, it is not just this attitude at Airbus and Boeing, but it extends down through all the suppliers, like GE, CFMI, RR, P&W, and down to the company that makes the valve caps for the tires.
This has to be one of your best post KC! You have covered the subject very well and offered an interesting explanation for the mounting difficulties this industry is facing.
While I agree with you that the bean counters have a lot to do with this sorry state, I also think that the increasing complexity of the most recent designs plays an important part as well. The 787 needs at least 8 million lines of code to operate and uses exotic material throughout. It not only incorporates new technology but also introduces new technological concepts like the all-electric architecture.
There are new challenges in production as well. The manufacturers are trying to lower their costs as much as possible, while assembling ever more complex and sophisticated aircraft.
Just think about this: Between 1942 and 1945, 300,000 aircraft were built in United States! Could you imagine such a feat today?
and how many of those 300.000 were still flying in the 70’s – (practically) all aircraft delivered today will still be flying in 30 years time.
Good points KC – let me, as one of the new(er) engineers take on a few.
1. Law of diminishing returns.
The rapid advancements of earlier years was in part due to the fact that all that came before was relative crap. There were still huge improvements to be made.
even if we still make similar absolute improvements, they will appear significantly less impressive: 1+1 seems a larger improvement than 100+1.
2. Requirement creep.
today’s aircraft are certified to all the same requirements the older ones were certified to – and then some. Not just safety (FAR/EASA), but also customer and passenger needs. I’ve seen some of the stress reports for the original 747… that wouldn’t do anymore (why do you think the 748, with it’s completely new wing and huge stretch is still certified as a variant of the original, 1960’s design). The customer will not accept a plane that does not eclipse it’s predecessor in all relevant metrics – and there used to be a time you had to be rich and/or famous to fly.
Today’s aircraft are much more complex. Production lines are distributed around the world, composites have orders of magnitude more variables than metals and there are more systems to integrate.
It’s fine to integrate iPads and TomTom’s to the flight deck, if we could somehow get rid of the legacy systems. If we can’t, than the iPad and TomTom are just added weight and complexity. More stuff to synchronize.
I whole heartedly agree with you here. The quarterly focus of money lenders does not fit with the years required to develop a new aircraft, prompting the bean counters to throw reality out the door and just ignore it. Yes we can becomes the mantra – Yes we can build a more complex machine in a shorter time than the previous, Yes we can do it for less money than we need, Yes we can.
They become entranced in their own lie, and the resulting deadlines. The race to meet useless, unrealistic deadlines results in much wasted effort and wrong choices. Thus the race to do it quickly will result in more delays – the hare is beaten by the tortoise.
Finally, there are good new programs – G650 springs to mind.
KCTB good post! The achievements in aerospace in the fifties / sixties were remarkable indeed. Aerospace was much more an institution. IMO governments / populations were willing to pay billions to defend themselves, put man on the moon, stay ahead etc. (“your” KC135s were ordered by 700, to be delivered within ’56-’61 & launched Boeing into the airliners business, with similar numbers of B52s and 2000 B47s) These days (while governments still play a major role in the background) development are driven by business cases, risk management, stockholders, individualism and ROI (“beancounters”) .. Only the Chinese have the resources and central control to make/finance huge ambitious projects. A new big (cold) war would boost developments like before. That’s a price we all hope to avoid though.
Great Post KCTB-
Manufacturing today goes with the buzz word Lean. In humans, Lean means the athlete that is well trained with proper conditioning of the whole body so it can complete the marathon. Most organizations Lean means we cut off a lot of ancillary programs and got rid of the inventory not in transit, but it doesn’t mean the whole body is conditioned.
We believe that computers design things but they can only be tools to execute a design. The CAD designer often only sees lines as just that, not the representation that they are of a hydraulic line. Our electronic prototypes have all the parts, but have we really tested how the part will be made, or does the prototype cover parts the full range of the tolerance envelope.
Back in the 30’s, a 10 story building would have possibly 20 pages of blueprints, now it would be closer to 200 pages. The drafters, designers, and engineers back then also had hand’s on experience and didn’t encounter that the result could be wrong to 10 significant digits. What CAD designer in aluminum today has even drilled a production hole.
At the same time today’s designs are much more complex as we try to get further on the evolution curve. Getting BUS architecture, eliminating bleed air, switching to composites from AL all have traps where the technology just might not be quite ready for the design, and that tech needs to be refined.
Farming the design across multiple sites, companies, countries, and contracts causes decisions to be made for contractual not engineering reasons and the potential to not see the forest. How across all this are such mundane things as fasteners get standardized, and similar design approach gets implemented.
It can be done, Apple has managed to make an incredibly good product with the iPad complete with a fantastic OS, that makes Windows look like an abomination.
Working across supplier barriers takes time.
Early on nearly every part was made on the premisses.
Having much, much more complexity takes time
A lot of complexity handled today by the plane was handled by the crew.
but from my viewpoint paperwork takes the cake.
On the other hand: flying today has magnitudes less risk than before.
About a magnitude every decade?
Additionally we are in a nontech dominated swing at the moment.
KC-135, Well spoken words.
Better just referred to as “business types”. Amazingly HR and Purchasing (oops, Supply Chain) have way too much pull than they should. Years back, the VP of Engineering at Garrett Engines>AlliedSignal Engines>Honeywell Engines named Jean Paul Frignac wrote a letter to the Editor at Av Week poignantly stating that company’s were no longer run by Engineers but by business types who have run it into the gutter. With the Corporation eventually getting so close with the Government, we now have Cultural Perversity and Globalization ruining the Corporation and to get a military contract you better have the ethnic content the Government demands.
In my opinion, no other company has been destroyed as much as Honeywell which will become a case study in numerous MBA programs in the future. This is easily the most dysfunctional companies the Aerospace community that is losing market share and is now bringing back their globalization social engineering manufacturing experiment back from Mexico, Malaysia and India while still woefully attempting to manufacture gearboxes in China. Look at some of the comments of past and present Honeywell slaves (probably the closest thing to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” you will see in corporate Amerika):
So I think Mr Enders is right on the mismanagement, both Sr Mgt and Engineering Mgt being incompetent but to take risks, requires significant R&D expenditures in Engineering and Manufacturing that these Corporations won’t take since they are interested in their bonuses and the dividend/stock price.
If you have kids that are thinking of going into Aerospace, stop them from doing so.
Well said indeed KC.
The point I would offer is that we no longer build prototypes.
We are supposed to get it right first time.
The 787 may well have been in service earlier with a prototype or even a mock-up to prove the propositions.
N.B. I am not referring to the infamous roll out!!!!!!!!!!
Off topic, but nonetheless interesting:
Get a glimpse of how an Airbus A350-XWB carbon fibre wing part is produced by the
new GKN factory near Avonmouth, Bristol UK:
You will see the world’s most advanced carbon fibre composite production line in action.
Just to expand on KC135TopBoom’s comments; I think one of the ways this bean counter issue has manifested itself in the worst way is the case for all and sundry to farm out their work. Designers are people who know about aircraft, their structures and their systems. An experienced designer is not someone who knows how to work a CAD station.
Yet that is a great problem that has manifested itself over the past decade.
Boeing itself, while not deliberately shipping out their work to companies in developing countries, was surprised (shocked?! horrified?!) to learn that some of their blue chip RSP’s had shipped much if their design work to such locations.
Airbus, while maybe not publically admitting to it, has deliberately tried to ship much of their design work to non-Euro nations. The one with the largest amount of work from Airbus has a currency that begins with an R, and not a Y, as some might expect. Although that could change in the future.
There is a high degree of racism implied by that comment.
Boeing would not wait for “government demands” to hire an experienced aeronautical engineer from Embraer. And if Santos Dumont was living in the US today wouldn’t you want to see him work for Boeing? Yet both of these examples would fit your “ethnic content”. And so would the actual President of United States for that matter.
While I agree with you there, keesje, I would point out the first true commerical airliners, designed from scratch with only airlines and not governments or military airplanes in mind were the A-300, B-747, DC-10, and L-1011. The DC-8s/-9s, and B-727s/-737s were really spin-offs form the military’s jet airplanes, even if their direct connections could not be easily made. The NB jets of the 60s all benefited from turbojet/fan technology and swept wing technology. The first WBs were a leap forward and were never really related to the USAF C-5A of 1967. With the exception of the A-300 and L-1011 most of the development funding for the B-747 and DC-10 were from company funds. The A-300 did benefit from a few early orders that did help in development costs, as did the basic airframe of the L-1011. Where the L-1011 got into trouble was with the sole engine selection, and all the troubles RR had at the time (bankruptcy and bailout by the British government). The other 3 WBs eventually offered other engine options from GE and P&W, RR was later added to the B-747.
In those days the attitude was let’s get it out the door to the customers, fix the problems the customers identify, and worry about breaking even on the program later. With that attitude, its a wonder the bean counters of that day didn’t all have a stroke. Even the OEMs of the day had more of a gentelman’s agreement not to pile on one who had a problem. When the DC-10s were falling from the sky like big snowflakes, neither Boeing, Lockheed, or Airbus jumped on MacDonald-Douglas’s mis-fortune.