To fly or not to fly: Yesterday there were several reports that the FAA was ready to allow Boeing begin test flights of the 787, only to be followed within hours that the FAA denied the reports.
The contradictions underscore the uncertainty surrounding the 787 grounding. Today the Wall Street Journal has this report further outlining the challenges of the investigation: the authorities don’t have the experts they need. The New York Times has this report detailing the FAA’s current position.
One expert we consulted doesn’t believe the FAA will approve test flights before April. A key paragraph from the New York Times article is this:
Boeing is conducting laboratory tests on its proposed fixes for the lithium-ion batteries on its new 787 jets, and federal regulators said Tuesday that they would need to see the results before deciding whether to allow flight tests.
This suggests to us that the April timeline may be reasonable as suggested by the consultant we checked with. Note, too, that the NTSB preliminary findings have yet to be issued and we don’t see the FAA making any decisions before this report is issued, expected sometime in the first half of March.
787 Schedule Cancellations: Some airlines have announced their cancellation schedules for the Boeing 787, while we had to go into Orbitz, Expedia or the airline websites to determine the schedules of the other operators with 787s. Here’s what we found:
US Airways has a large fleet of aging Boeing 757s it needs to replace. The problem is, a carrier official says, neither the Airbus A321neo nor the Boeing 737-9 MAX can do what needs to be done: Phoenix-Hawaii non-stop in both directions with maximum payload under all conditions.
The distance is 2,910 miles, well within the advertised range of 4,200 miles for the A321neo and 4,137 for the 9 MAX. But Derek Kerr, executive vice president and chief financial officer says fleet planners have yet to be convinced either plane can replace the 757W, which is uniquely able to handle the hot, summer conditions at Phoenix, where temperatures often soar to 110F degrees or more.
US Airways is one of only two legacy airlines in the US that has yet to order the MAX or the NEO (Delta Air Lines is the other). A year ago, US Airways CEO Doug Parker told us that the value proposition of ordering the neo still was unconvincing given the price premium sought by Airbus. Kerr told us last week that the large, outstanding order for the current generation A320 family as replacements for the oldest jets–and the lack of a true replacement for the 757–meant the airline wasn’t in a hurry to place an order for re-engined aircraft.
Odds and Ends: A350 production boost; 787 ‘Super Box’ and political influence; Boeing’s JAL monopoly
A350 production boost: Airbus wants to boost production of the A350.
787 ‘Super Box‘: In the harshest assessment we’ve seen so far of the Boeing 787 situation, BB&T Capital Markets analyst Carter Leake characterizes the proposed containment box for the lithium ion battery as a “super box” and Boeing’s entire proposed solution as a Rube Goldberg approach.
We view Boeing’s “Super Box” proposal as a reverse Rube Goldberg contraption that attempts to solve a very complex problem with an overly simple solution. We believe there is no doubt that Boeing’s proposal is the fastest way to get the 787 flying again, but if the NTSB plays the safety card in its upcoming interim report (which we think they will), the Super Box strategy will be a hard sell for weak-kneed politicians who will care less about the arcane rules of aircraft certification, and more about the open-ended political exposure of supporting a rush job. Worse, we believe the very powerful, but instantly credible, pilot unions will soon weigh in against any solution that contemplates a “contained fire” of any kind. This issue has unfortunately become very political, and we believe the 787 crisis is far from being resolved.
Boeing doubled down on its Lithium Ion battery system by proposing modifications that purportedly address the risk of thermal runaway and the more critical issue of smoke and fire containment. Using a “Super Box” concept (our term), Boeing hopes to divert attention from how the previous system performed—or did not— and instead focus on a fortress approach that can deal with worst-case battery fires, regardless of their cause. Congressional sources cited in media reports state that Boeing is adamant that this is a permanent fix and no alternative solution is being pursued. Given the original battery system is being modified, even if for the better, some degree of re-certification will be required.
Kudos to Boeing engineers for constructing this kludge in short order, but we view the Super Box as a reverse Rube Goldberg contraption that attempts to solve a very complex problem with an overly simple solution. We believe there is no doubt that Boeing’s proposal is the fastest way to get the 787 flying again, but if the NTSB plays the safety card in its upcoming interim report (which we think they will), the Super Box strategy will be a hard sell for weak-kneed politicians who will care less about the arcane rules of aircraft certification, and more about the open-ended political exposure of supporting a rush job. Worse, we believe the very powerful, but instantly credible, pilot unions will soon weigh in against any solution that contemplates a “contained fire” of any kind.
All we can say is, “wow.”
Sole sourcing not preferable, says JAL: The grounding of the 787 may provide an opportunity for Airbus in Japan, where it has had decades of poor sales, if this article is any indicator.
Clues emerged from a variety of news reports following the meeting Friday between Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration that point to when the 787 will be able to reenter service.
The most tantalizing: Boeing will need up to eight weeks from the FAA green light before the 787 will return to service.
Since we don’t expect the FAA to approve proposed remedies any time soon (a relative term, to be sure), we think it could easily be May or June before the 787 returns to service. The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board isn’t likely until the first half of March. We believe the FAA will want to see and digest this report before drawing is own conclusions. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will take the FAA to review the NTSB findings and Boeing’s proposal.
Assuming the FAA concurs with the Boeing recommendations–which may or may not be a safe assumption–what kind of testing will the FAA require, both in the lab and in the air, and how long will this take? Only after all this would the FAA green light the fixes and the “up to eight weeks” timeline kick in.
Here are the key news articles and some key excerpts:
The FAA has released a list of air traffic control facilities that could close with Sequestration, which is due to take effect March 1.
The following facilities in Washington State are on the list:
ALW Walla Walla Regional Walla Walla WA
MWH Grant County International Moses Lake WA
OLM Olympia Regional Olympia WA
PAE Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field) Everett WA
RNT Renton Municipal Renton WA
SFF Felts Field Spokane WA
TIW Tacoma Narrows Tacoma WA
YKM Yakima Air Terminal/McAllister Field Yakima WA
Additionally, the over night shifts in the following control towers are at risk:
BFI Boeing Tower Seattle WA
GEG Spokane Tower Spokane WA
The FAA warns that passengers at TSA lines could be up to three hours and tarmac delays at major hub airports could be up to 90 minutes.