Analyzing the two Boeing 787 press conferences–and new polls
See new polling below the jump.
Two back-to-back press conferences last week are clearly the beginning of Boeing’s effort to rebuild confidence in the beleaguered 787 and confidence in the 787 and Boeing brands, which have taken big hits following the grounding of the worldwide fleet January 16.
The airplanes have been on the ground for two months and two days. Boeing says it hopes the grounding order will be lifted by the FAA within weeks. Clearly, Boeing will be ready if the tests currently underway validate the series of fixes it’s worked out. We’re not as sanguine about the timing, if only because the FAA has never been known for its speed, because Ray LaHood, Secretary of the Department of Transportation of which the FAA is a part, painted himself and the FAA into a corner with his silly “1,000%” remark, and because of uncertainty of how the Japanese and European regulatory authorities will respond to the fixes.
But we will acknowledge that Boeing has worked with the FAA’s Seattle office to find solutions, so review in Washington (DC) is not as if officials there are starting “blind.” But we can’t help but think that given the spotlight on the FAA’s certification process from the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA’s own declaration that it will review its procedures in certifying the airplane battery in the first place that a go-slow pace will prevail.
As someone whose business and experience also include communications, we found Boeing’s two press conferences to be well-done beginning efforts on rebuilding the brand. The press conferences were lengthy and there were tough questions at each.
The problem, if you want to call it that, is that the journalists are not engineers and while they asked some tough questions, some of the information is probably over their heads. But skepticism was evident.
Andy Pasztor of the Wall Street Journal challenged Boeing on its view there wasn’t a thermal runaway as others said, including the National Transportation Safety Board. Boeing’s representatives took the view that a thermal runaway had to threaten the airplane, and what occurred did not, so it wasn’t a thermal runaway. The NTSB and others believe a thermal runaway is a thermal runaway and that’s that–along the lines if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, then it’s a duck.
The whole discussion of thermal runaway struck us as parsing words. We recognize that engineers view things differently than we mere mortals, but perception matters and we don’t think Boeing made a persuasive case that the thermal runaway didn’t matter.
As we listened, we were a bit disturbed by Boeing trying to down-play the fire on the JAL airplane. Only small flames occurred, Boeing said, as if this was inconsequential. The NTSB and the Boston Fire Department seem to have a different view. As we reported, an Airbus presentation in March 2012 about fire and smoke concluded it takes just eight minutes for a fire to get out of control and if airborne, the plane should be put on the ground within 15 minutes. Fire is fire. Remember the duck.
(Analysis continues after the polls.)
What is your reaction to the back-to-back Boeing press conferences? Readers have commented real-time but we’d like to follow up with new polling.
Still, we came away after the press conferences convinced that Boeing has done everything it believes possible short of swapping out lithium ion batteries for older technology nickel-cadiums.
People criticize Boeing for outsourcing, for not testing enough, etc. As we’ve pointed out previously, Boeing never built batteries and always relied on [outsourced] vendors. We reject this criticism on this narrow point.
We’ve also said previously that aviation is replete with examples of manufacturers testing to standards they believed were appropriate, only to find through later in-service experience that the testing was inadequate. This is evident in this case, but this doesn’t suggest that Boeing or the vendors were derelict. Perhaps the NTSB and FAA reviews will conclude differently but we think instead conclusions will find that well-meaning efforts simply fell short.
Reuters has this story about Boeing now putting the battery through tests it once avoided. This, we think, kind of proves the point. We were the first outlet to report the RCTA task force, following a reference to it on Randy Tinseth’s blog.
- The LOT Polish 787 (Line 86) identified for the sole test flight to validate the battery fix is to make its flight tomorrow, reports Glenn Farley of KING 5 TV in Seattle.