By Scott Hamilton
Sept. 13, 2019, © Leeham News: As Boeing prepares for what it hopes is an imminent recertification of the 737 MAX from the Federal Aviation Administration, how it will handle the logistics of returning 381 grounded airplanes to service and delivering nearly 300 more undelivered 737s is key.
One need look to the only other time a Boeing jetliner, the 787, was grounded and how “One Boeing” coalesced to attack what was then its largest logistical task for its commercial airplanes unit.
The return to service of the 787 paled compared with the task facing Boeing today. In 2013, there were only 50 787s grounded worldwide after two lithium ion battery incidents: one fire and one near-fire, one on the ground and the other as the airplane took off.
In 2013, the production rate of the 787 was in the single digits per month. The 737 is being produced at a rate of 42/mo.
In 2013, there were a few score of 787s parked around Everett’s Paine Field awaiting delivery. Today, the nearly 600 737s are scattered around four locations in Washington State, a Boeing facility in Texas and various airline storage areas around the globe.
In May 2013, I wrote a freelance piece for CNN’s website how Boeing planned to return the 787 to service. This story may be found here.
Boeing today has been mum about how it will handle the MAX return to service.
It has publicly said it is hiring a few hundred temporary employees to be located at Moses Lake (WA), where more than 100 MAXes are in temporary storage.
These technical people will be tasked with “un-pickling” the airplanes: opening up seals on pitot tubes, air ducts, engines, etc. Making sure fluids are pure and all control surfaces work. Powering up the engines, APU. Making sure the airplanes are free of insects, rodents and birds. The list goes on.
Months of storage—the MAX was grounded March 13—complicate the tasks.
These technical people include retired Boeing employees across a litany of skills.
In 2013, the task of installing hardware to contain possible battery fires and bringing back to life 50 787s was then described as tedious. New batteries had to be installed, new containment boxes installed around the batteries, new systems associated with the containment boxes added and an exhaust hole drilled into the bottom of the fuselage.
For MAX, the fixes to the MCAS and flight control system are software updates that will take maybe a few hours to download. As of today, no hardware fix is going to be required, although Europe’s safety regulator, EASA, says a third Angle of Attack sensor of some kind may be mandated.
Boeing Commercial Aviation Services, the forerunner of Boeing Global Services, took the lead. Personnel from Boeing Defense, Space & Security were loaned to Boeing Commercial Aviation Services and CAS.
“Because of the way the teams were going to have to be built, there were some very specific skills that were needed,” CAS CEO Lou Mancini told me in the 2013 CNN interview. “A good example would be engine run. Within AOG we have two engine run folks but obviously we were going to need more, so we did reach across the enterprise.
“We reached out to our BDS (Boeing Defense, Space and Security) counterparts. We reached out to our factory. We reached out to our avionics functional test guys and the Everett flight line people really helped. A vast majority of it came from the Everett flight line. They are as close to the same skill set as we would require.”
Then, CAS had a team of 300 people in 10 teams dispersed around the globe to service those 50 787s. Boeing had to transport up to 30,000 lbs of tools and equipment, something not required for the MAX.
“This was on such as large scale, this is probably the single largest thing we had to focus on, the logistics behind being able to accommodate the movement,” Boeing said then. “We moved equipment sometimes several times to satisfy the customers.”
Boeing doesn’t have the parts and tooling logistics for the MAX that was required for the 787. But the sheer number of airplanes creates a different set of logistics challenges.
The first MAXes returned to service will be newly produced ones from the Renton (WA) factory.
These won’t have been “pickled,” and the software upgrades should be installed during final assembly.
This is probably what Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in thinking when he says the MAX could return to service in the early fourth quarter. Preparing the produced-but-undelivered airplanes for RTS and bringing back to life the grounded airplanes will take longer.
The level of pilot training required remains unclear and could affect the RTS.