Boeing lobbies Congress to avoid 787 hearings

Boeing has lobbied Congress to avoid holding hearings on the Boeing 787, according to this Associated Press report.

One might argue about the appropriateness of Boeing lobbying on this issue, but we agree with the outcome: it’s premature to have Congressional hearings, if at all.

Congress has an unfortunate habit of meddling in affairs in a way that seems more aimed at publicity than actually doing anything productive. The investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board isn’t over–it’s not even held its own hearings yet–and the FAA’s own navel-gazing hasn’t concluded (has it even begun?). Until these are done, Congress would be ill-advised to hold any hearings.

Whether it is advisable to hold hearings after these investigations are complete remains to be seen. But for now, no hearings is the right thing.

20 Comments on “Boeing lobbies Congress to avoid 787 hearings

  1. Are there any engineers in Congress? Engineering issues are involved here, and politics should never intrude on engineering.

  2. Scott, this time I disagree with you. Boeing already has powerful enemies in DC. You could start by spelling that J O H N M C C A I N and go on from there. Boeing’s entire publicity campaign has basically been keyed to telling everyone else how little they know about engineering an airplane. Although that is true, Boeing, by shoving it in everyone’s face, is making permanent enemies. You never know when you will need a friend. They can’t all be bought back with campaign contributions. From what I observe, Boeing is even damaging links with some of its closest friends. Read that as “Senator from Boeing”, who is torn between her consumerist roots, and her ties to Boeing union jobs. It is amazing to me that a company that has screwed up so badly continues to push. Sometimes it is better to back off and wait.

    There is no doubt that Congressional hearings will be damaging to Boeing. But, trampling Congressional ties to avoid hearings may be even worse in the long run.

    • “There is no doubt that Congressional hearings will be damaging to Boeing. But, trampling Congressional ties to avoid hearings may be even worse in the long run.”

      Boeing sees this as a last recourse?

      Boeing lives in a protective bubble of highly cohesive interests.
      ( I see no other explanation for the way their share value behaves. )

      Exposing misbehaviour is always damaging, no question there.
      Where is the point reached were this bubble avalanches into dissolution from interest divergence?

  3. I believe a Congressional hearing is absolutely appropriate, and necessary.

    This is NOT as much about Boeing as it is about the failed FAA oversight of the whole process that led to the very disturbing incidents of early January. No, this is much more about FAA and whether they are possibly failing in one area or another, in their role to oversee the whole process and certify the 787. We went through this before with Eclipse just a few years ago. The hearing is needed and should cover the design process, outsourcing of aircraft components, the interactions between Boeing and FAA offiicials, and exactly what real role the FAA had in this chronology. Such a hearing has a very high probability to reveal improvements FAA can make to prevent repeats.

    The advantage of a Congressional hearing over an NTSB hearing is a greater degree of transparency. Despite good performance in recent years, NTSB is small and has a real history of being manipulated against transparency. E.g., the lack of a public hearing when 49 died at the Comair Lexington crash on 8/27/06; here is an article that looks at NTSB politics:

    Congress probably has very few engineers. So what. The most effective U.S. official thus far in this matter has been Deborah Hersman. She has a political science degree from Virginia Tech. Her most extensive transportation credential is a motorcycle endorsement on a commercial drivers license … but she has been damned effective, far more so than spinmeisters FAA or Boeing, because she speaks of facts and uses her engineer resources to get the work done.

    I know it is hard to believe, given the Congressional performance of recent years, but these elected officials actually do have a long history of conducting deep hearings that have produced excellent and insightful reports. Congressional committees have produced thousands of very detailed hearing reports over centuries, many of which are viewable online. They can and should do it again. If Boeing succeeds in shutting down a hearing on the 787-Boeing-FAA situation, that would be an indication of a ‘political-thermal runaway’.

  4. I think that it is in the US public best interest to hear about certification procedures at FAA, particularly when special arrangement are made and fail (ex special condition not met twice in the row when it should have been once in a gazillion!).
    Sure Boeing will be hurt as Cessna should be too.

  5. More bilge water from bloated no nothing politicians. The always want to get the attention of the public by grandstanding about things they have no knowledge in.
    Let the engineers and the FAA do their jobs without someone sticking their noses in and asking a lot of stupid questions and gumming up the investigation in progress.
    There are many qualified people working on this issue and Boeing knows a thing or two about aircraft and aircraft design
    If someone cannot make it in the private sector, they wind up in Washington.

    • Much more valuable than bilge water.

      Boeing knows plenty, but continues to spin their view, such as their claim that there really was no thermal runaway since JAL did not crash (at least that seems to be the ‘logical extension of their fuzzy logic’). If not for the involvement of NTSB and Japan, do you really think we would have any transparency on this matter, have even seen a burnt battery photo?

      It is absolute provable fact that lots of self-serving political grandstanding does occur in Washington, sometimes also to the benefit of dues-paying constituents (and the AP article notes Boeing has paid $83Million in such ‘dues’, during the past five years of lobbying). We who ride on these planes, and pay airport fees and taxes for good service by FAA, deserve and demand better. A congressional hearing remains our best chance at maximum transparency on all aspects of the entire issue: FAA design and manufacturing oversight, Boeing’s role and facts at critical decision points, the new technologies, and the evolving industry.

  6. “A congressional hearing remains our best chance at maximum transparency on all aspects of the entire issue”

    Ha ha, good luck with that one.

    Among the many attributes of the US Congress these days, transparency does not seem to be one of them.

  7. You have said it rather well. These knuckle-heads in Congress our focused on publicity and show trials. I am tired of seeing folks like McCain grand stand for the camera. The one executive decision he made was the choice of his running mate – Sarah Palin. Need I say more.

  8. The regulators are possibly part of the problem. Let them sort it out?

  9. I do agree that hearings into the process on how the FAA goes about certifying aircraft could be useful although any such potential hearings should wait until both NTSB and FAA investigations and audits have been completed. I do not see hearings on the use of Li-Ion batteries in commercial as being positive in any way, shape or form.
    I could understand Boeing trying to avoid having hearings into the batteries, but it certainly does not look good for them when such efforts come out. But Boeing seems to have some sort of teflon suit where nothing sticks to them. This story will dies within a week, two tops.

    Now for the juicy bits of the story which most people seem to overlook,
    “Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the commerce committee, said Boeing officials have implored him not to hold a hearing on the 787 batteries. “Their lobbyists have been saying that like crazy for weeks and weeks and weeks,” he said.”

    Follwed later by these three paragraphs,
    “Shortly after the Jan. 7 fire in Boston, Rockefeller and his staff told reporters he intended to hold a 787 hearing. They quickly shelved the idea, and later scheduled a more general aviation budget and safety hearing for Wednesday.

    The chairman of the panel’s aviation subcommittee, Democrat Maria Cantwell, is from Boeing’s home state of Washington. Asked about the possibility of a 787 hearing, she was noncommittal. She’d prefer to have hearings on the importance of “aviation manufacturing and how do we maintain a robust workforce because the U.S. industry is facing great competition from China, Brazil, and others that want to be in the business,” Cantwell said.

    Washington’s other senator, Democrat Patty Murray, chairs the subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees the FAA’s and the NTSB’s budgets.”

    So the democrat from West Virginia shelves plans on hearings into the 787 while the tow democrats from Washington, where the heart of Boeing commercial beats, are in charge of the House transportation committee’s aviation panel aviation subcommittee and the subcommittee that overlooks the purse strings for both the FAA and NTSB.

    As Arte Johnson used to say, “Very interesting”.

    One could say tht the Government should either empower the NTSB to enforce mandatory changes to the way the FAA works or save the american taxpayer a few bucks and disband the whole organization entirely. Even though the present director seems to show more initiative, intelligence and presence than many of her predecessors, at present, it is just a toothless, paper lion. My preference would be for more powers.

    • “Very Interesting” … but wait, there is more.

      Mr. LoBiondo represents the NJ district where FAA’s Tech Center is located in Atlantic City; he will best serve his constituents by appearing stern with FAA while negotiating in the dark to continue to flow more FAA funds and jobs to this location.

      Mr. Shuster of PA is in a state clamoring to get FAA to abandon Long Island and New York, and relocate a big chunk of high-paid payroll (controllers, technicians and managers) from the NY TRACON to locations in Pennsylvania. His state’s largest airport, PHL, aims for many more FAA AIP grants to scale up and produce thousands of local jobs. So, if FAA tells him they may trade him some of what he wants if he cheerleads the ‘no congressional hearing is needed’ line, well, the hearing ain’t gonna happen.

      Likely, with minimal research, it can be shown that every member of each congressional subcommittee relevant to FAA comes from a state that has interests seeking tens of millions in airport projects … and FAA holds the purse-strings. Also, that each of these congressmen knows the incumbency value of a ribbon-cutting to add a terminal or repave a runway and say ‘hey, look at smiling me, I just secured X new jobs for you .. can’t you just feel how much I love you, please love me back!’. FAA has the money, thanks to Congress passing the PFC and other rules that compel all paying passengers to contribute the bulk of the money in this massive and mismanaged slush-fund.

      Such is politics.

      As for FAA, I think it could just pare itself down considerably, if Congress passed a mandate for full transparency, so everyone could see every communication and every expenditure. Take just a handful of those ‘$180K plus bonus annually’ FAA positions in DC, and have them focus on documenting how FAA works, and how it spends. They could quickly create lots of pressure to streamline and cleanup …

      Lastly, as for Hersman, I hope Obama is not inclined (or being pressed) to slide her into the DoT Secretary position, so that a quieter NTSB Chair can be seated. That would be a shame.

  10. I recall the hearings on the Sullenberger case, ‘just’ two engines failing, leading to the famous Hudson landing. In that hearing, the crew had an opportunity to express some thoughts and concerns on factors affecting safety. Their payment and working conditions, which, for example, showed that the FO was a former Captain and in need of a second job for the last six years while Sullenberger himself had a 40 percent cut.

    A hearing on the 787 case could also offer an opportunity for lets say the ‘average’ engineer at Boeing or the average guy working for the FAA to point out some things which accidentally(?) get lost when PR professionals set up the speeches or file the details to the press.

    On the case of waiting for final investigation results, I would agree. However, when following the official Boeing wording, we are already looking at the final ‘solution’ (a word I wouldn’t use). By this, hearing about the details and circumstances when it comes to the certification of aircraft could offer a welcome insight. Since people tend to complain when something goes wrong but not always mind the details and e.g. funding of authorities as long as no batteries burn (or was it just smoke?), those talks may once again establish at least a bit of transparency on the case.

  11. A few more pearls from Mr. O’Leary:
    One interesting comment he made about the aft lavatory deletion on 737s. He said the americans, i.e. the FAA would not permit it. But if the plane is only flying in Europe, wouldn’t he be able to get it modified and recertified there? Not that I really want that. If he were to pull that off, I would definitely not fly with them.

    I also noticed he could be diplomatic, when he wants to. One of the hosts of the news show spoke of the UK, as if Ireland were part of it. He looked slightly nonplussed but shook it off and showed some charm.

    Interesting, that is.

    • Sorry, this should have been in the Odds & Ends post with the Ryanair purchase announcement.

    • off topic but O’Leary confirms the extra seats of the -800 compared to the A320 was the most important reason to go for the 737. The A320 has become a bit small and the A321 has grown..

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