Aviation Writers Bloc: Calhoun’s Countdown

April 15, 2021, © Leeham News: Boeing CEO David Calhoun turns 64 on April 18. This means he is in his final year on Boeing’s Board of Directors and as an employee, unless the Board extends his contract beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65.

In a new feature, the Aviation Writers Bloc, LNA’s panel discusses Calhoun’s legacy, whether he’ll launch a new airplane program and whether Boeing Commercial Airplanes will remain headquartered in Puget Sound.





67 Comments on “Aviation Writers Bloc: Calhoun’s Countdown

    • Yea, I liked the 5 thing he has to do, but he and the structure as setup can’t do any of them.

      Even tactically they are failing miserably. Quality control is all hindsight

      • I wonder if Boeing is still going forward with that big plan to eliminate many “unnecessary” inspectors.

    • I think this is like a Super Tanker or a huge Dinosaur.

      It simply can’t change. A super tanker can’t stop and turn in under 20 miles, a dinosaur can’t adapt.

      The goal became cash and cash only and that has driven it to where its at.

  1. Agree with Richard. N single aisle, 10.000 replacements 2030-2040, should be the goal. What if Boeing misses out in that market segment, hold up by an NMA experiment, that the airlines shunned for 6 years?

    A twin aisles aircraft will probably be at least 70t empty, much heavier than even a stretched A321XLR. Making it a niche aircraft. Fits with Boeing sending out the RFI for 47-52k lbs engines.

    I guess my assumption is NB is the key segment in terms of scale. The MAX isn’t good enough to lean back and see what happens. A220s, A320, A321 new versions will do bad things to market share and key customers.


    • If Boeing can make an carbon widebody with robots cheaper than Airbus can make the A321XLR it gets interesting. Historically could not small widebodies take the cycling like a narrowbody hence they got more range and were flow on much longer routes. But can a widebody do it today? It takes some really good engineering to archive that and to make a profit when selling below an A321 price.

      • > If Boeing can make an carbon widebody with robots cheaper than Airbus can make the A321XLR it gets interesting <

        Does it really look like they're in a position to do some
        moonshot-level, never-before-done project like that, when they're having trouble keeping the MAX safely in the air?

        I mean, I want a Pony too, but.. yeesh.

        • Adding: When the Jobs are taken by Robots™, who among the Neo-Serfdom will be able to afford to fly?

          It’s a shell game.. unless you’re ultra-rich.

          • This. Unless their billions are re-distributed, there will be blood.

          • When money flows in it will flow out and create new jobs that require different skills. When sailships were replaced with steam ships, lots of jobs changed. If the money stick with the ultra-rich it is a problem if they don’t invest in new high tech products they like which is pretty common in the US. Just look at Space X and the UAM industry.

        • I think they are working on it really hard. If they succeed is another question.

      • > If Boeing can make an carbon widebody with robots cheaper than Airbus can make the A321XLR it gets interesting <

        Does it really look like they're in a position to do some
        moonshot-level, never-before-done project like that, when they're having trouble even keeping the MAX safely in the air?

        I mean, I want a Pony too, but.. yeesh.

        • Carbon fiber panels or barrels are already made by robots, it’s the only way. It’s the high cost of materials and processes like the autoclave are the issue.
          The way ahead with automated fuselage panels that are cheaper is FML or fibre metal laminate. The A380 used it on the upper fuselage and it’s likely the same for a new small widebody.

          • Not all carbon fiber are superstrong Toray Prepreg, there are lots of different types down to the grades used by the auto industry so the Electroimpact robots need to be able to handle them all. Eventually someone will figure it out how to bake carbon aircraft fuselages quickly and cheaply to the correct shape and quality. Maybe from the composite overwrapped pressure tank industry?

          • Out of auto clave is already here, its a matter of developing it.

            MC-21 has made major moves in that direction.

            Unless something changes the MC-21 will be certified. Not sell anywhere else but in Russia but it will be certified

      • “”If Boeing can make an carbon widebody””

        Boeing had this fantasy long ago when they tried the 787.
        Now, in the real world, Boeing is doing open heart surgery on new planes.

        • Leon:

          You mis state the failure of management on quality control vs the ability to do so. The base system works and works well (as does the A350 system which while different works)

          Can Boeing do it again with what they have done to the company?

          That is a valid question.

      • >If Boeing can make an carbon widebody with robots cheaper than Airbus can make the A321XLR it gets interesting. <

        I'm going to include Perpetual Motion propulsion w/ my
        superior proposal of the above, and at no extra charge..

        Deludere, deludere..

        See Boing content below

      • Nobody can make a carbon plane cheaper than a similar sized aluminum plane. Only the material costs prohibit that but the manufacturing process is also more complex and time consuming. With time consuming I also mean machine hours, you can’t forget that automation has developed pretty far in the A320 production line. And if it’s robots against robots, but carbon against aluminum, the cost will be like 3:1.

  2. I’d agree with Richard Aboulafia that Boeing should go for a new single aisle family — three models having the same capacity as the 737-10, 757-200 and 757-300.

    Also, I do believe that the “problems” with a 753-sized single aisle are somewhat overstated. The integration of two 1.26m wide A350-sized doors and an effective door opening of 1.2m at the L2/R2 position, will allow for boarding the aircraft forward and aft of the L2/R2 doors, at the same time. In contrast, the current main passenger doors on the A320 doors are 0.99m wide, while the effective door opening is reduced to only 0.81m when the doors are open, since the doors partially block the door opening (i.e. entrance/exit way) even when they are fully opened.

    This means that aft of a wider A350-sized L2 door on a 753-sized single aisle aircraft, the floor area and capacity is about equal to a regular A320. Boarding/deboarding the aircraft through the new wide L2 door — which is usually done through the “narrow” L1 door on a regular A320/A321 — should therefore not take more time than the boarding/deboarding procees on a standard A320, since the aisle ahead of the L1/R2 doors would essentially function as the second aisle of the aircraft.

    • It might be that it is really hard to compete with a 240 seat widebody for 4500nm routes against an A321XLR, but Boeing are normally thinking of families that grow in length and range. So starting with a maxed out narrowbody put you at the end right away. Starting with a carbon 767-200 of the 2000’s will eventually lead to the same evolution as the 767-200ER and -300ER where you make the money, The 797-200 will not be the cash cow but force Airbus hand to a robotic built carbon rewinged A322, where Boeing will match with a 797-300ER for the same price with more pax and cargo if everything goes as planned… Then 10 years from now the Trussed brazed aircraft LH2 powered 180-240 seater might get board approval.

      • Not sure I’m parsing your post correctly; but it sounds
        to me like you think BCA is making [or can make] a whole bunch of real smart chess moves, and then will adequately execute (execute, execute, execute) them. How’s BCA’s execution (and employee and Supplier relations) looking at the moment?

        Yours is not an *impossible* scenario, but I wouldn’t bet its way..

        • I agree that BCA track record of the last few years has room for improvement, still we don’t know what is hidden in their Catia files , Ansys stress models and systems design software tools and if there are big progresses made in manufacturing technology coming on-line for new products. I agree that grounding of components is a must and should be in compliance of design rules and filled out check lists in addition milliOhm tested on all installed products as part of the quality system.

          • claes:

            I don’t know if they could do worse if they tried.

            I think the term pathetic is correct vs room for improvement.

            Despite the failures they have been hell bent on continuing the dismantle process.

            My work was a series of not what I did right today, but where can I improve and do better?

            I expected to do it right, I often could do it better and I sure never excused my failures other than what they were and those had to be corrected right now.

            That did not mean I did not have failures, but they were single failures no chronic and never ending.

  3. Scott, that’s a great format having 3 outside opinions is the right number and length is good. The 10 minutes podcasts sometimes feel a bit cramped, like there is no time to explore an issue.

    I really enjoyed it.

    • I concur.

      I did not think I wold and I did.

      I do think some key aspects were missed in the Calhoun discussions.

      The talk was what he wanted to be this or that.

      He can’t be. Its a rare person who get to be that old that can change.

      I think they are right he realizes it and sees the issue, but I don’t think he has the ability to do anything about it.

      Like the tanker, he could do full rear thrust and it would be 20 years before he got turned around.

  4. Yes, I enjoyed the four very plugged into aerospace experts talk about the possibility of new leadership at Boeing and where they might lead the company. I think they would concur that this company is in need of a couple new strong products. I would also hope that Boeing would not cut corners when it comes to designing and building new airplanes so workers would benefit and not just stockholders. That path has led to where this company is today. Thanks for the Presentation!

    • In addition. I understand the argument for the NSA. But MNA has a few strong pluses, too, including it allows Boeing to get needed cash from more MAX sales; the 767 replacement is wanted by airlines and if done right might sell 2000 planes over its life time and market fragmentation could give this plane in two lengths quite a run.

      • An un-recognized part of the Max saga is that it was actually a reasonable strategy –
        * invest minimally in the 737 to let it remain a cash-cow for another 15 years
        * use the cash flow to build a larger NMM plane that introduces and perfects a new production technology
        * apply that technology and cockpit to a new narrow body that can beat even a A32x neo-neo.

        And absent the MCAS debacle it had a good chance of working. Airlines showed every sign of being on board with it.

        • I agree, but,15 years on from launch is 2026, 15 years on from entering service is 2032.We all know that developing a whole new program takes at least 10 years to be up and running, no matter what the optimists insist.

        • …except that there comes a point in time where something is stretched so thin that it finally snaps. As other commenters here have noted on multiple occasions, fitting the engines under the wings already started to become an issue with the NG, and assumed much more problematic proportions with the MAX. Boeing should have recognized that they were trying to milk too much out of an old cow.

          As regards minimal investment: An undergraduate engineer could have told Boeing that it was not a good idea to have a single point of failure in a safety-critical subsystem — particularly when that subsystem received its input from a type of sensor that is prone to regular failure. He could also have told Boeing that it was not a good idea to give such a system infinite overriding authority. With a tiny amount of extra investment, the problem could have been avoided. The whole saga is a wonderful illustration of “penny wise, pound foolish”.

          The delay caused by the MCAS debacle is proving problematic, because the Chinese and Russians have in the meantime introduced their competing models — which are both FBY. Hence, with the Embraer E2 thrown in, Boeing is the only OEM out of five that is offering a NB airframe without FBW. The thing has become a dinosaur.

          Moreover, a half-baked turkey could have foreseen that the MAX-9 and MAX-10 could never compete with the A321neo / LR / XLR, so the writing was already clearly on the wall for the MAX.

          • Yes, well stated. Maybe what they should do is what they did with the 757 / 767 development program. 2 planes simultaneously. Many overlapping systems including flight control. The sweet spot for size on each of them. That would be determined by the customers. I would anticipate that would be a 67-300 minus two frames; and a 57-200 plus two frames. Maybe start with the 787 wing and carve her down. A thing to keep in mind is that the A321 is not perfect. A lot of those orders for the LR and XLR are because there was nothing else comparable.

          • Nothing snapped in the tech sense and the engine really have nothing to do with it, other than a trigger that cascaded into crashes.

            The underlying problem is the half assed corner and cost cutting. Failure of the FAA as well as the regulatory capture.

            What is missed is the 787 has the same identical issue and could easily have had its own crashes (both on battery as well as the RR engines) (and keeping in mind the quality control failures are a spin off of Calhoun, Mullenberg, McNerney . and Condit/Stonecipher

            None of it says the 737-8/9 MAX was a bad move, the failure was and always will be no programs in place to deal with the A321 and that goes back further than MAX.

  5. For the mid-range market, 3K to 5K miles, a smaller aircraft with 45K to 50K engines seems like the next logical step.
    More pressing is building the optimal aircraft for 1K miles to compete with and better the A321neo. As Richard said, 40K engines. C gate capability with a 36m wing, or does 38m wing work? MTOW of 100t to 105t with a single axle main gear. If a twin aisle can get to 3,000nm on that program and at that weight, it’s a twin aisle.

  6. My Crystal ball says the Max 10 will have some bigger changes than previously announced. Its cost effective to allow a longer range and to probably go for the A321XL capability but not the XLR. Depends on what GE can do with the Leap-B as well. Maybe they will extend the wing beyond the C gate size, to fit in where the 757 used to be, or even a triangular insert like the A340-500 had to up its wing area, other than that it could be soley in the undercarriage. A bit of everything would be the boldest and a wing insert could be built at the location where the P-8 had its modified wing built at Renton

    • Does your crystal ball also tell you where Boeing is going to fine the finances to fund all these fantasies?

      • As I said they are relatively small changes to the 737 which are cost efficient. An investment in an improved product which comes from the existing funds tapped from the bond market.

        • I think the calculus has to be on MAX10 that you make that many changes into a chassis that is not competitive for what gain?

          Then retrofit those changes back to the 737-7? Phew.

          • Who needs invention when there’s duct tape around??

            More crashes imminent.

          • Pedro:

            Duct tape has its place.

            Its when its misapplied that things go South.

            The weird thing is the MAX -8 and -9 are fully competitive with the A320.

            That is a sad commentary on aerodynamic advances as anything.

            Once Boeing got themselves into a corner, the MAX strategy short term was the only way out.

            But it should have had a successor in the Wings (pun not intended but not avoided)

            MAX 10 is clearly a joke and now they have to pay the full piper, not worth it.

            Avoid that, avoid the retrofit for the -7/8/9 and come out with a new aircraft.

            I don’t know Boeing can do it, but that is the way out.

            What the hull form is does not really matter, I think dual is the way to go as you can make it a longer family. But that is an opinion.

            What you can do depends on the tech and engineers and equally does Boeing nave those people any more and what they have is scattered all over the place and face to face is huge when you do something like that.

          • “”MAX 10 is clearly a joke and now they have to pay the full piper, not worth it.
            Avoid that, avoid the retrofit for the -7/8/9 and come out with a new aircraft.””

            I think the 3rd AoA source has to be introduced to the -7/8/9. This 3rd AoA can’t be avoided even if the MAX-10 won’t be certified.

  7. I think for a narrow body NMA, we should stop taking the 757-300 as the one and only reference, that was unsuccessful. It’s a very narrow NB, The A320, the MS21 and even DC8-72 have bigger cross section providing a stiffer, more efficient fuselage.

    E.g. Easyjet A321NEO’s (235 seats) use 25 inch wide aisles, by using 737/757 width seats. It seems passengers are passing each other relatively ok. The MS21 has an even wide aisle, combined with wider seats. It avoids passengers/ trolley’s bumping your shoulders / elbows during longer flights too.

    If Boeing goes for an even wider NB, many of the typical NB disadvantages (slow aisle traffic/ uncomfortable, structurally inefficient for log fusealges) might be mostly gone. While the advantages (efficiency/low weight) remain. Even making 1-2-1 in front possible for longer routes.


    • The Irkut MC21 was designed wide enough for a person the pass a meal service trolley. This probably also helps embarkation disembarkation. Perhaps Boeing could apply its ovoid fueselage idea to a single aisle.

  8. I love the blue covid sky. It looks like it did when I was a boy. Has anyone got any facts about this? Or is my memory failing me? Are others going to notice as well?

    • How about ‘Mother Nature’s innately-beautiful Sky’, or God’s Blue Sky’ ? Why on earth would you want to associate a *lovely and natural condition* with a neologism that most of us have already heard way, way too much?

      • Average age of the worlds population is 30, they think that pre covid-19 is the natural condition. They don’t remember the 70s. No one seems want to address this issue.

    • Check out the story from WSJ:

      – The potential electrical problem that prompted airlines to remove dozens of 737 MAX jets from service last week affects more areas of the aircraft’s flight deck than previously known, Boeing Co. said Friday.

      – The same production changes also impacted the grounding path of the aircraft’s main instrument panel and the rack that houses the standby power unit, Boeing found during its recent assessments. Those areas must be inspected and modified as well, Boeing said.

      The issue stems from the use of a paint coating that could potentially disrupt the grounding pathways, people familiar with the matter said.

        • The electrical problem is relevant to *all* MAXs built since the recent resumption of production — which amounts to 90 units from a worldwide (delivered) MAX fleet of 450.

          Not sure if O’Leary’s 8200s are directly impacted, because the first batch all appear to be “parking lot birds” built more than a year ago. Still, in typical BA fashion, we can expect this stain to spread, with further announcements in the coming days that more and more airframes are affected.

          BA has completely lost the ability to design and build aircraft. It should change tack and instead manufacture relatively simple products such as fenceposts, which don’t involve sophisticated electrical/mechanical/software systems.

          • I read it is caused by a production change in early 2019, probably affecting all 450 737 MAX produced.

            Timing is interesting, after a push of 737 MAX delivery near quarter end and WN’s order firmed up.

          • BA would probably be able to produce the 737 MAX no more than at a monthly rate of 25-30 in the medium term, looks more and more likely.

          • BA’s 2020 10K:

            737 undelivered under firm order (comm. and military) 3,282

            2021 Q1: 3,192 + 48 = 3,240 (decrease of 42!? after massive fire sale to AS/WN/UA etc )

          • All the issues getting exposure now ( 737, 787, 777 ) seem to be coming up due to longstanding “cheapness”?
            ( do they come up because Boeing starts to aerate some of its manufacturing “compost”. .. or is it fall out from Boeing trying to be just one step ahead of some newly hardnosed FAA people?
            What is the outcome for “headless rivets” recently found on some (older) 777 frames? Read it in passing but apparently was not taken up by news outlets or aerospace fora.

      • Any person with an iota of electric knowledge knows it requires metal to metal for a ground contact.

    • More misery, expense and bad publicity for Boeing. Serves tbem right: the company has become a hornets’ nest of shoddiness, shortcut taking and substandard design.

      Particularly striking that the electrical problem in the MAX is taking on greater proportions. And we were expected to believe that this was “the most scrutinized plane in history”? That re-cert in China just got a whole lot more distant.

      And, of course, the infamous Boeing autothrottle rears its ugly head again. Let’s see how long it takes for BA to start blaming the crash on the Indonesian pilots…any bets?

      • >Particularly striking that the electrical problem in the MAX is taking on greater proportions <

        "This is Our Concern, Dude.." sorry, but an apposite quote from The Big Lebowski. My impression at the moment is that this new MAX issue is being underplayed. Hoping BCA
        can again become a good company, and employer.

    • RE: SJ182 crash lawsuit

      One of the safety regulations introduced after the older 737 planes were certified requires that a jet’s automated systems be designed to give pilots a smooth transition if for any reason they disengage and revert to manual flight.

      If automated systems disengage, the jet must not abruptly shift its behavior in such a way as to require unusual pilot skill or strength to maintain control.

      In the Sriwijaya crash, after an autothrottle malfunction causing unequal thrust between the two engines had been ongoing for some time, the automated systems eventually disengaged. The plane immediately rolled to an angle of 45 degrees and the pilots lost control, according to the preliminary report.

      Joe Jacobsen, a former FAA safety engineer who publicly criticized the FAA’s certification of the 737 MAX just before he retired last month, said in an interview Thursday that this suggests the jet’s autopilot system was “handling the fault, until it let go,” after which the plane abruptly rolled.

      Up until that point, he said, the autopilot would have been compensating for the unequal thrust between the engines by moving the rudder and trailing edges on the wings (ailerons) to prevent the plane from yawing or rolling to one side.

      “Basically what the system does is it masks the fault until such time as it lets go … all the way up until it finally runs out of authority and then it releases, and puts the airplane into a bad situation,” Jacobsen said. “That’s not allowed anymore, but it was in the old certification basis of the 737-500.”

      While at the FAA, Jacobsen pushed for more than a decade without success to have just one of the higher safety standards on automated systems retroactively applied to older 737s.

      Speaking to The Seattle Times in February, Jacobsen described an autothrottle problem that contributed to the ET302 crash and mentioned then his concern about the Sriwijaya crash.

  9. More details of Turkish Airlines’s cancellation/push back of 63 remaining B737 MAX order:

    Converts 40 to options
    Cancels 10
    Reschedules 13 deliveries in line with the operational and financial capacity of the airline.

    From 63 orders chopped down to 13, a drop of 79%.

    • It makes you wonder why they bothered to keep the 13 remaining oddballs…

  10. Another possibly-boring but maybe not metaphor from
    the game of tennis: one coach- a former top-tenner in the US- when asked about tactics, said bluntly to me “we could talk about that stuff; but if you can’t even put the ball in the right place on a regular basis, it’s just talk..” (paraphrase)

    Boeing has significant problems w/ execution, and I don’t see them as being easily rectified (FOD, for one, is a telltale symptom), AFAICS. Corrections are welcome..

  11. More wonderful publicity for Boeing: yet another lawsuit in which the dirty laundry will be hung out for all to see.
    Reuters: “Air Force One subcontractor GDC countersues Boeing”

    “GDC’s counterclaim argues it is “Boeing’s mismanagement of the completion of two Air Force One presidential aircraft, not delays caused by GDC, that has caused a delay in the completion of those aircraft.

    “Because of its problems with engineering, program management, and its own financial difficulties, Boeing has fallen behind in the project schedule for the aircraft. Boeing looked to GDC as a scapegoat to excuse its lack of performance on the aircraft to the United States Air Force,” GDC said, adding Boeing’s “false” statements have damaged its reputation with the Air Force “and the aviation industry worldwide.””


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