Conner: Boeing Ready To Move on 787 Fix

 - March 11, 2013, 2:00 PM
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner. (Photo: Gregory Polek)

Boeing will move “really fast” to return the Boeing 787 to service once the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approves the company’s proposal to solve the airplane’s battery problem, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner told attendees at the J.P. Morgan Aviation, Transportation & Defense Conference in New York on March 4. Although he wouldn’t offer a specific time frame, nor could he reveal any details of the “three-layer” solution he presented FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, Conner expressed confidence that the agency and the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau (JCAB) will find the proposed fix sufficiently thorough.

Conner said that Boeing has used some 200 engineers to conduct “probably” more than 200,000 hours of analysis and tests to arrive at a “very comprehensive” solution.

“We’ve covered the waterfront, so to speak, in terms of all the potentials that are out there,” he insisted. “We would not go forward unless we felt we had it nailed, and I think we do.”

Conner issued his proclamation only three days before the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board released an interim factual report on the January 7 battery fire discovered on a Japan Airlines 787 parked at Boston Logan Airport. Although the report confirms that all but one of the eight cells in the lithium-ion battery short-circuited, it draws no conclusions as to the reason.

The company did consider switching from lithium-ion batteries to a more conventional nickel-cadmium type, Conner acknowledged, but, he said, it couldn’t justify such a move based on the studies it had conducted.

“I think we’ve got a solution in place that addresses all the potential factors that could go into an initiating event, and there was no reason for us to make that switch,” he said. “It was much faster for us to get back into the air that way, but really, at the end of the day, we feel very comfortable with the technology as it stands.”

Timing, of course, will depend on how much time Boeing will need to conduct certification testing and install the upgrade kits in the delivered fleet. Finally, it will need to retrofit the production airplanes now completed and sitting in Seattle.

Conner described the 787s still rolling off the assembly line at a rate of five per month as “very clean,” and said he sees no reason to change plans for the next rate break to seven per month “pretty soon,” and, ultimately, to 10 per month by the end of the year. “Obviously that could change if something were to go sideways with the FAA, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said. Meanwhile, Boeing has not changed its earlier delivery guidance for analysts of at least sixty 787s this year.

Comments

Roland Delhomme's picture

More smoke and mirrors. Boeing's leaders have had quite the carbon footprint between their torched credibility and the smoke and mirrors campaign to keep the idea of a 'fix' in play.

Reporters are the new pawns in the media war, running to file reports short on facts and long on hot air from Boeing's Ministry of Information. The reporters who didn't get sent to Rome to watch the Vatican are stuck watching Boeing HQ for smoke signals. Marketing VP Tinseth seems to have forgotten a cardinal rule of credibility in marketing: it's better to keep one's mouth shut than to try to tell someone else's hopeful lie.

In the face of more damning revelations from NTSB, you'll soon be treated to more press conferences, statements, posturing and hollow claims, and finally, a triumphant declaration of victory and progress as they gain traction with the FAA to allow testing of the 'fix' to a problem they denied existed only weeks ago.

FAA Secretary Huerta: step carefully; you lost face in the first press conference with McNerney and LaHood, and you seemed to be under either duress or undue influence during your Capitol Hill appearance; maybe it's time to step aside to avoid the appearance of impropriety or having allowed Boeing execs to exert pressure...

Since their first claimed certification trials and testing ran "200000 hours", lets do this: Get back to us after you've prepared a public, open and transparent testing regimen, and lets talk after 200000 hours of testing; after all, you do want legitimacy, don't you? Get ready for MY questions which come from NASA, Sandia National Laboratory, DoD, Stanford, Purdue, among other places.

Notably absent are engineers and scientists who don't want to risk their careers and certifications going to bat for Boeing's laughable concept of a 'fix'. Let's talk algorithms, thermodynamic models, let's see results, proof, demonstrations, peer review, infrared imagery of the cells, and data runs from each, along with logs, proof and verifiability. All you've done is create a fireplace and chimney for a battery you said couldn't catch fire and promised would ventilate. Why should anyone trust you now?

Instead of a statement of sincere regret and a apology, a rededication to what made Boeing great, plus an invitation to scrutinize, what we're instead treated to is scurrying lobbyists and conference calls between Chicago and DC as you wriggle to get approval to fly the fireplace for rigged tests by an FAA you've already proven to have manipulated and abused. It's a weak excuse for engineering and it only exposes your failure to get it right as you now strain to avoid tough questions.

You had SIX years to get this right, now you say you miraculously fixed it all in six weeks, but all you offer is hot air and press conferences.
Your employees are gagged, unable to say what they really want to-but there are cracks in the dam. Do you feel the strain? Look; there's one now...

Boeing execs: Gauntlet thrown. Make contact and show me what you've got; you're going to go up against a panel of Boeing insiders, test pilots, laboratory heads, testimony from inside the 787 program, battery experts, and engineers from NASA, DoD and DARPA programs. If you really have a fix, it's time to stop manipulating stocks by playing with investor confidence and put your money where your mouth is. You're not ready for real questions and you're not ready for cross examination. Go home and try to scrape up some credibility before you slither back out. I'm waiting. Yes, it's personal, and no; you don't want to face me, I've got friends and family in Boeing cockpits and cabins, in the plant and in the sky.

Boeing execs latest contribution to aeronautics is the Monday morning press release.

With each passing week, the statements of 'confidence' have moved from CEO McNerney to Conner, to Marketing VP Tinseth; it's engineering by press release, and by mid day, more papers will pick up on the latest heavy breathing headline from the puppet media that cashes Boeing ad dollars while never asking the penetrating questions.

Now, it's the VP of Marketing telling us how safe the plane will be. Wasn't it already safe? Wasn't that what we were told between the JAL battery fire and explosion and the inflight battery thermal event and smokeout aboard the ANA flight, only days apart? 137 passengers and crew were exposed to toxic, corrosive smoke and gases.

Nice job guys: you promised a one-in-ten million flight hour failure rate and said you had a way to ventilate smoke and molten battery effluent. Now, you've got two aircraft in need of extensive inspection for smoke and soot effects in their avionics, and 137 exposure cases to monitor. At least two people have already been injured in fighting fires caused by your battery and its charging/management system. No conscience, none at all. Next you want extended operations for five and a half hours from land or nearest diversion airport? (ETOPS 330) Good luck with that.

787 battery fires and explosions go back over six years. The only thing new this time is that the plume is now coming from Chicago, as Boeing execs burn through credibility and good will as their claims go up in smoke

Joe Tebow's picture

^wow, what long-winded, over stated load of B.S. My guess, no matter what Boeing offered up you'd still be cinical and go on with your rant. Another arm chair engineer that's smarter than everyone that working on the fix. Do a little research on every modern day jet powered aircraft and present, just one, that hasn't had some issue after launch. Did you rant when cracks were found on the A380 wings? Or are you paid by Airbus for your rant.

Get a life!

Roland Delhomme's picture

Well Joe, that's amusing: I'm barely smart enough to turn on a flashlight, but somehow managed to get you torqued out of spec.
First of all, Boeing is a LOT bigger than Boeing Commercial Airplanes-and yesterday they led the DOW; up 1.5%; that's just from headlines; I don't invest in aerospace stocks, but maybe you're a stakeholder-you neglected to disclose your position. And no, your guess was wrong; there's a LOT I'd cheer about-especially since I've got family and friends in Boeing cockpits, in engineering, on flight lines, in black programs etc...
Again; no financial stake, save for seeing Boeing-and America do better. We can disagree on many things respectfully, and I'll fight and die for your right to call me names, but I'll fight to the death for flight safety. So, no, I wasn't in on the A380 wing crack debate, and I'm sorry I missed some other battles that you perhaps were better equipped to join. Maybe you felt alone and didn't take up the sword, or maybe you did and found few engaged enough to care. You did, didn't you? Or did you play it safe and avoid taking flak from people online like you?
What was it then, that got under your skin and prevents you from getting on the phone with Boeing instead of taking me to task? (You DO have access, right? Not to the switchboard, but access?)

Now, since Boeing execs (their words) cite two hundred thousand hours of battery testing, isn't it amusing that they manage to put that same amount of thoroughness into a 'fix' for a problem they denied. If you go by that math, the real feat of engineering is the time machine they must have built, no? Since 200K hrs is what they cite as their confidence point for battery testing, they seem to have painted themselves into the corner.

There's a LOT I'd cheer:
McNerney: resigns.
Engineers- Old school BOEING engineers, FIX this.
Happy people fly safely and everyone goes home in one piece.

What would YOU prefer, sir? Is it OK with you that the certification process and US aerospace has lost credibility? Answer this question: How does America's credibility hold up in the eyes of prospective foreign customers after this? Is it a selling point you'd put on the brochure, or the cover of the annual report?

How about the 5.3 billion dollars of YOUR money that the WTO found subsidizing the Boeing 787 program? That resulted in 12 billion dollars of sanctions that against Boeing. Why? Because (if you're an American, your name is by extension, signed to this document) there's a little treaty we're all signatories to regarding government subsidization of commercial aircraft programs.

Let's move on to your specific critique, and I AM sorry; no, I didn't go off about the Airbus cracks; I was involved in flight test and certification with another aircraft at the time. Now, I just play with crayons and interact with coloring books, and enjoy the attention of folks like you who have so much to add.
When Boeing gets this RIGHT, no one will cheer louder.
Try me.

Roland Delhomme's picture

Well Joe, that's amusing: I'm barely smart enough to turn on a flashlight, but somehow managed to get you torqued out of spec.
First of all, Boeing is a LOT bigger than Boeing Commercial Airplanes-and yesterday they led the DOW; up 1.5%; that's just from headlines; I don't invest in aerospace stocks, but maybe you're a stakeholder-you neglected to disclose your position. And no, your guess was wrong; there's a LOT I'd cheer about-especially since I've got family and friends in Boeing cockpits, in engineering, on flight lines, in black programs etc...
Again; no financial stake, save for seeing Boeing-and America do better. We can disagree on many things respectfully, and I'll fight and die for your right to call me names, but I'll fight to the death for flight safety. So, no, I wasn't in on the A380 wing crack debate, and I'm sorry I missed some other battles that you perhaps were better equipped to join. Maybe you felt alone and didn't take up the sword, or maybe you did and found few engaged enough to care. You did, didn't you? Or did you play it safe and avoid taking flak from people online like you?
What was it then, that got under your skin and prevents you from getting on the phone with Boeing instead of taking me to task? (You DO have access, right? Not to the switchboard, but access?)

Now, since Boeing execs (their words) cite two hundred thousand hours of battery testing, isn't it amusing that they manage to put that same amount of thoroughness into a 'fix' for a problem they denied. If you go by that math, the real feat of engineering is the time machine they must have built, no? Since 200K hrs is what they cite as their confidence point for battery testing, they seem to have painted themselves into the corner.

There's a LOT I'd cheer:
McNerney: resigns.
Engineers- Old school BOEING engineers, FIX this.
Happy people fly safely and everyone goes home in one piece.

What would YOU prefer, sir? Is it OK with you that the certification process and US aerospace has lost credibility? Answer this question: How does America's credibility hold up in the eyes of prospective foreign customers after this? Is it a selling point you'd put on the brochure, or the cover of the annual report?

How about the 5.3 billion dollars of YOUR money that the WTO found subsidizing the Boeing 787 program? That resulted in 12 billion dollars of sanctions that against Boeing. Why? Because (if you're an American, your name is by extension, signed to this document) there's a little treaty we're all signatories to regarding government subsidization of commercial aircraft programs.

Let's move on to your specific critique, and I AM sorry; no, I didn't go off about the Airbus cracks; I was involved in flight test and certification with another aircraft at the time. Now, I just play with crayons and interact with coloring books, and enjoy the attention of folks like you who have so much to add.
When Boeing gets this RIGHT, no one will cheer louder.
Try me.

John Rigas's picture

I have been following with Interest most of the news reports and media releases about the battery problem with the 787.History has shown that just about with every new plane their will be from teething problems to at times major problems just like the British Comet.
Any issues with fire of any kind on an aeroplane would have to be considered serious. Im not quite sure if im missing something here or not, but so far all I have read is reports from Boeing of how to divert the smoke out of the Plane and restrict the fire to a minimum.
To date I have not read one comment from Boeing or anyone else as to why the fires start in the first place,what is the real cause or root of the problem,and more Importantly how it is to be fixed permanently!!!!!
I like both Boeing & AirBus I think they produce some very nice planes.However I find it quite disturbing as to how Boeing is handling the whole issue,I get the feeling and vibes that the robust and perception of ultra safe flying of the 747 days are over !!! I feel its time for Boeing to stop and take a long hard look back at the culture, mentality,pride and commitment of the man that build the 707 & 747 alike.If they do this along with todays superior technology Im sure they will come up with a genuine and true solution to this very serious safety problem they have. After all how much is 1 life worth?? can anybody put a figure on someones life?? Boeing is dealing potentially with Millions of lives!!!! It is a very heavy load on someones conscience if he or she would be responsible for the loss of 1 life only,even in a minute way shape or form,let alone of possibly hundreds!!!
Boeing has the moral obligation to get this fixed correctly and safely whatever it takes and as long as it takes,not of how much it will cost them.

Roland Delhomme's picture

"Boeing has the moral obligation to get this fixed correctly and safely whatever it takes and as long as it takes, not of how much it will cost them."

EXACTLY.

Roland Delhomme's picture

Apologies to editors and moderator and readers for inadvertent double 'send' on my last; operator error.

George's picture

Why wouldn't Boeing just modify whatever battery system is in the 777 and put it in the 787 and be done with it?

Roger Lowry's picture

Yes, George; that's more or less what everyone with any electrical knowledge is asking.
The aviation folk can't seem to realize that they're dealing with a chemical-electrical-thermal problem, not an aeronautical/commercial/political SNAFU. They seem to be oblivious to the plight an airplane will be in once a battery has caught fire, even if the rest of the plane suffers no fire/smoke damage.
If they sell 1000 787's the batteries will have cost over $300,000 per 787... a new world record?
Electrical/electronic designers worldwide are sobbing in their beer over the fact that any one of them could have solved this problem for around $40,000 [say, 40 hr @$1000/hr] but aviation officialdom would not approve..........The exact make and model of battery fitted to an airplane has a vital bearing on its airworthiness, hasn't it?
Yeah; right!

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