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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 7, 2013 at 10:34 AM

For the Dreamliner, the fix is definitely not in

Earlier this week, I wrote about Ray Conner, head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, implying that the trouble with the 787 Dreamliner lithium-ion batteries has been identified and can be fixed — and all that’s necessary is for federal regulators to sign off. It was a risky P.R. strategy and now it’s blown up in Conner’s face (but vented to the outside). The Wall Street Journal reports that when the National Transportation Safety Board releases documents today on the battery fire aboard a parked Japan Airlines 787 in Boston, it won’t pinpoint the cause. Instead, the documents may cause even more trouble for Boeing and an overly friendly FAA:

The report also is expected to delve into how the batteries were certified as safe by the Federal Aviation Administration. The NTSB already has challenged the assumptions and procedures the FAA relied on six years ago to allow extensive use of the powerful batteries aboard 787s.

Meanwhile, the agency announced two public hearings on the battery issue — for next month. And the fire aboard an All Nippon Airways 787, which forced an emergency landing and ultimately grounded the entire fleet, continues to be investigated by Japanese authorities. Like the NTSB, the Japanese “appear equally stymied in pinpointing the exact cause.” Whether this prevents Boeing from even conducting test flights with a its proposed solution to the li-ion battery issue remains to be seen. But, the Journal reports, “Less than a week ago, Akihiro Ohta, the head of the Japanese transport ministry, told reporters that Boeing’s proposal was merely a ‘starting point’ for getting the planes back in the air, noting that it is bound to ‘take some time’ to analyze the package.”

Boeing has made a powerful skeptic in Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “I have made it very clear that I want a thorough review” of the Boeing plan, LaHood told the Journal Wednesday. “‘I am going to ask a lot of questions’ before a final decision is made.” LaHood oversees the FAA and not only is moving carefully on allowing the 787 to fly again but no doubt wondering how the airplane won approval in the first place. “Since the grounding, Mr. LaHood has privately raised questions about Boeing’s proposal, urged additional engineering reviews and generally embraced a go-slow federal approach.”

As the drama grinds on, Boeing faces lost orders, compensation claims from customers, rising costs, a growing timeline to break even, and the threat of being leapfrogged by Airbus. Interestingly, the Journal article stated, “Meanwhile, Boeing has been busy on Capitol Hill. The company’s government-relations chief, Tim Keating, has worked to keep lawmakers, particularly those on aviation committees, in the loop. His approach, however, was one of ‘inform rather than persuade,’ an official said, because safety is the most important issue. He has brought Boeing’s engineers to several meetings on Capitol Hill in recent weeks.” But no doubt the informing includes the threat of layoffs if the Dreamliner isn’t flying soon.

Only one firing needs to happen to persuade everybody that Boeing is changing its ways: Chief Executive Jim McNerney needs to be shown the door with no golden parachute. The burning battery got it.

And Don’t Miss: Size matters as triple E container ships sail for Europe | The Guardian

Today’s Econ Haiku:

To late to get in?

The Dow keeps setting records

Casino’s open

0 Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing, Airlines

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