Reflections of a whirl-wind week in the news cycle
This is one of those moments where jet-lag induced sleep patterns give us a moment to catch our breath.
What a week it’s been in the news cycle. We came to Europe on routine business and from the moment we stepped off the plane in Amsterdam for a connecting flight, our Blackberry was filled with emails about the ANA 787 incident. Less than 24 hours later, the 787s were grounded, the SPEEA contract negotiations were reaching a climax and Airbus was holding its annual review press conference.
And our trip is only half over.
The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article focusing on the battery approval by the FAA and its reliance on Boeing in granting approval. Subscription is required. The article speaks to the very point we made in our previous post about the FAA’s reliance on OEMs and suppliers generally and for the 787 specifically. Unaddressed in The Journal article is our point about the FAA review of the entire 787 program and the continued reliance on Boeing and suppliers for research. This remains an unanswered question.
The Seattle Times has this article that reports some of the same ground as The Journal, outlining Boeing’s fevered effort to get the airplanes in the air soon. The Times reports the grounding extends even to the 787s awaiting test flights in advance of deliveries.
The International Herald Tribune has this story about the lithium battery and this detailed story about the grounding, including discussion of the fire control of the 787 electronics bay. Finally, IHT has this technical discussion of lithium ion batteries.
Our own inquiry suggests Boeing hopes to have the airplanes airborne within days.There is a definitive proposal before the FAA.
Boeing designed triple and quadruple redundancy to prevent conditions that would cause a fire or leakage, we are told. The systems themselves are believed to have not failed, but the investigation is incomplete. This suggests that the fault may well be with the batteries themselves, as The Seattle Times and Bloomberg News have now reported. It remains unclear if there are simply defective battery issues or if there is a systemic battery production issue or there are other issues.
Reuters has this story with quotes from the battery maker. Noteworthy is the company response that the battery is but part of a system. The person says the probe involves the entire system, not just the battery. The article also has the cost per day to ANA for the grounding.
At Airbus, the mood was stoic. Sensitive to perceptions over the intense, often bitter rivalry with Boeing and the knowledge that what happens to Boeing could in similar form happen to Airbus (see A380 problems), nobody at Airbus was anything but empathetic. CEO Fabrice Breigier expressed sincere hope for Boeing’s plight and efforts to return the 787 to service, and this reflected universal sentiment.
Reporters naturally asked about the use of lithium batteries on the A350 and reaction to their use on the 787.
Airbus officials, without any hint of criticism over Boeing’s choice of an all-electric airplane, simply explained the differing philosophies that led to Airbus’ conclusion to retain more tradition methods of powering the A350: hydraulics and pneumatics. The benefits of all-electric didn’t offset the risks and costs enough to go this route, officials said. The result is that the A350 actually draws less power from batteries than the A330 because of design efficiencies, they said. Further, the Auxiliary Power Unit on the A350 is started by two batteries splitting the load versus one battery on the 787 carrying all the load.
See our post on this topic. Not a lot more to add.
The Everett Herald has this story.
Airbus annual press conference
Setting aside the drama of the 787, this was pretty routine stuff. Airbus trailed Boeing last year in deliveries and orders, as expected, but it still bested its own forecast for orders by 50%. Had 2011 not been boosted by the plethora of A320neo orders, booking 900 gross orders last year would have been viewed favorably by anyone. But the year-over-year comparison showed a 43% decline and the ever-eubillent John Leahy was driven crazy by media headlines pointing out this YOY decline. In an after-conference press gaggle, he ribbed Reuters’ Tim Hepher in a good natured manner over the Reuters focus on YOY stats, but his frustration was evident for all to see.
Boeing’s 2012 orders were boosted by its comeback with the 737 MAX. Now that the surge of orders for both companies is over, it will be interesting to see how a normalized year shapes up. Airbus has a sales goal of 700. Boeing will likely be asked about its sales goal during the year-end earnings call at the end of this month.
Totally off topic
The new American Airlines logo is creative. The tail treatment sucks. Maybe US Airway will fix that. Leave it to AA management to screw up the rebrand.
In the What-is-he-thinking category, Lance Armstrong shudda kept his mouth shut.