Boeing’s Dreamliner is a remarkable airplane. Its construction using composite materials had its biggest rival Airbus scrambling to develop a competitor after betting large on the A380 double-decker superjumbo.
But a spate of recent problems has raised safety concerns about the Dreamliner and cast as shadow on Boeing’s reputation.
"This is comparable to Toyota’s recall, Airbus had similar problems with the A380," said Bernhard Bauhofer, managing partner at reputation management firm Sparring Partners in Switzerland.
"The race between Airbus and Boeing is like an inter-continental ballistic war. Quality is suffering to make way for speed, development is happening so fast safety is suffering.”
Bouhofer’s also concerned with the way to two aircraft manufacturers farm out work: "You can’t delegate management… it’s just uncontrollable."
"If you’re a customer flying on any airline you’ll probably take a closer look at what plane you’ll be flying on."
"It’s important Boeing works with the airlines to build a communications plan that tackles the consumers’ concerns.”
Building a plane is a complicated process. Ray Conner, the Chief Executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, rarely give interviews.
“In an industry full of brash back-slappers with outsized personalities, Conner stands out by not standing out. When he assumed his new role, the governor of Washington even spelled his name wrong in a press release.” (Reuters)
But right now he’s the man facing the flack over the incident-prone 787 Dreamliner, in early December last year I sat down to interview him.
I put it to him why the industry was having trouble bringing big projects in on time and budget.
“We took a big step in technology and I think that step in technology of course was such a departure from what we have done in the past so that was a real learning experience for us, and a lot of things that you can’t anticipate come up as you move forward. We changed not only the type of composite materials, we went more for an electric plane, we changed the business model.”
Boeing replaced the hydraulic systems with electrical ones, and it appears the problems is the lithium-ion batteries. There are alternatives.
It’s a plane the airlines love because its lighter, flies further and helps them to be more profitable. With each plane costing $206m, airlines will most likely use these incidents and delays to drive down the price.
Flying has never been safer, I know Boeing and the airlines wouldn’t put on unsafe flights. Having been to Boeing’s industrious plant in Seattle -- I’m sure its engineers will figure this out. I’m looking forward to my next trip on the 787 on the way back from Switzerland next week.