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Thu Feb 7, 2013, 11:41 AM

Boeing's Real Problem With the Dreamliner: Bean-Counter vs. Engineer

James Fallows-

If you've read anything about the aerospace industry, odds are that you've seen quotes from Richard Aboulafia, of the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va. I've relied on his advice for years, including in my recent book.

So whose views would I like to hear about the causes and possible consequences of the ongoing Boeing 787 Dreamliner problem? Right: R. Aboulafia's. He does so in his latest client newsletter, now also available on line.


As discussed previously in this space, the Dreamliner's specific battery problem itself may or may not be diagnosed and resolved sometime soon. But according to Aboulafia the turmoil illustrates a larger trend within the company (emphasis in original):

Last summer, Boeing's top management axed the engineer CEO who had been turning around BCA and making it better again. They replaced him with a non-engineer CEO. Then, management got into a confrontation with the engineer's union (which may also partly be the union's fault, but it's not a battle management can afford right now). Then Chicago put off the very promising 777X until the next decade, which, from a customer perspective, might as well be an indefinite postponement. These moves were on top of a 787 development model that de-emphasized in-house engineering and relied on industry partners for much of the development work.

Since the 787 appeared to be out of the woods, and the 777X was put off until the next decade, Chicago likely didn't think it needed much from engineers. Then that damn 787 battery thing happened. Oops. Back in Seattle, engineers, represented by a disgruntled union and forced to report to multiple layers of non-engineer management, are working overtime on the problem, but after several weeks, nobody appears to be close to a solution. As this is written, there's a strong chance of a six to nine month grounding (due to the need for re-certification).




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http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/02/boeings-real-problem-with-the-dreamliner-bean-counter-vs-engineer/272944/

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Reply Boeing's Real Problem With the Dreamliner: Bean-Counter vs. Engineer (Original post)
n2doc Feb 2013 OP
jberryhill Feb 2013 #1
liberal N proud Feb 2013 #2
Populist_Prole Feb 2013 #3
GoCubsGo Feb 2013 #5
GoCubsGo Feb 2013 #4

Response to n2doc (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 11:51 AM

1. IMHO


The bean-counter/engineer conflict is a classic one, but I don't think this one is all that squarely attributable to one or the other.

The issue is not the outsourcing of the battery manufacturing per se, nor cost-cutting in the design.

Lithium battery thermal runaway issues are well known and require built-in countermeasures. I'm surprised that given the sheer number of laptops on airplanes, that one hasn't melted its way through the bottom of an airplane somewhere, but I suppose that is a testament to how well-controlled the issue is in even cheap laptops. There is an FAA restriction on quantities of spare lithium batteries that can be taken onboard (or at least there was the last time I checked), but it is rarely enforced by the TSA.

The battery in question has been alleged to violate design principles on density of cells. Now, sure, design rules are themselves driven by innovation, but if someone (a) pushes the edge of the envelope and (b) that system fails in a manner consistent with the reason for the envelope, then it is hard to argue the design was valid.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:28 PM

2. Bean counters are always at opposite end of the polar spectrum from Engineers

No matter the business, engineering always takes the hit because of bean counters.

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Response to liberal N proud (Reply #2)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:56 PM

3. True, and now that dynamic is affecting aviation

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Response to Populist_Prole (Reply #3)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 01:23 PM

5. Yep. It has been that way for decades.

See: The McDonnell-Douglas DC-10. My dad had a friend who was a former Air Force aviation engineer. He was horrified that M-D allowed that thing to let that thing leave the assembly line because it was so poorly engineered. He refused to fly on them. The bean-counters rushed it into production to beat Lockheed's L-1011 to market, without fixiing a number of design flaws. And, it came as no surprise to him, or anyone who heard what he had to say, when they started crashing. We had one crash a few miles from where I grew up. I lived near O'Hare airport, and one of them lost an engine just after take-off. It missed a a half dozen of those large fuel storage tanks by a few hundred yards.

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Response to n2doc (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 01:04 PM

4. Funny you should post this...

Today, in my local right-wing fish wrap's anonymous "Talk Back" column, somebody called in and flat-out insinuated that the battery issues in the 787 could be "sabotage". I am in right-to-work-for-less South Carolina, where Boeing moved to flee unions. And, most of the people here buy into the anti-union shit, so naturally, some of them are trying to push the notion that the unions caused the battery failure, rather than the profit-grovelling bean-counters. Be prepared to hear lots more of this anti-union garbage in the weeks to come.

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