It is one thing for the media to witlessly parrot Boeing press releases about the super light weight benefits of 787 Dreamliner, which is incredibly late, heavy and disappointing in its stop/start limited release into production and introduction, but are the airlines really that stupid?
The answer may be ‘Yes’, and in the case of Qantas, someone needs to ask why it kept ignoring the reality after the deliveries promised for 2008, then 2009, then 2011, then 2012, fell though.
As in, ‘hmm, I wonder if something isn’t quite right with the 787?’.
These nagging set of questions are back in focus today because of a truly ugly report by Flightblogger, Jon Ostrower, well, ugly in terms of content. Flightblogger has been to the 787 program what Pravda was to Kremlin watchers before the fall of the USSR.
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The 787 is struggling to better the fuel burn of a 767-300 with winglets on a comparison based on longer flight stages.
Flightblogger is, like Pravda was, an impeccable conduit for the information that the power it reports on is for various arcane reasons, always too slow, or too indirect, to promptly or reliably release.
There has been no reliable guidance from Boeing on the 787 program since mid 2007. Not one of its quarterly investor briefings has ever proven accurate in its guidance on this program, not even from one quarter to the next quarter, a matter of only 13 weeks.
Read Ostrower’s report and grind your teeth. Then let the meaning sink in. There is no 20% improvement over anything being delivered, so painfully slowly, from among the dozens of incomplete 787 carbon barrels and wingsets that clog the Everett final assembly area awaiting variously the undoing, redoing and completion, of these jets.
Yet this 20% better metric, sprinkled like pixie dust over so much of the PR guidance generated by Boeing, be in in fuel burn reductions, or structural weight savings, or anything else, has become inseparably joined in popular media reports to almost everything said about the Dreamliner.
This situation, of underperforming 787s, may persist for years, not just as the Everett backlog of unfinished or blemished 787-8s are brought up to deliverability, but as the redesign work involved in the 787-9 comes to grips with the enormity of the -8 stuff ups.
In December James Albaugh, the president and CEO of Boeing Commerial Airplanes, may have been setting the die for the harsh realities that are now emerging about the Dreamliner program, by telling a conference that Boeing needed to go back to its roots and become an engineering centric company.
He was variously reported as saying that the emphasis in Boeing had to become one of under promising and over delivering and that he looked forward to an end of trips to various airline customers to explain to them that the Boeings they had ordered weren’t going to do all of the things that had been claimed for them.
This means reversing the existing order, of over promising and under delivering. Albaugh has to deal with a hype-centric legacy at Boeing, and has plenty of challenges avoiding a repeat of the 787 fiasco with the 737 MAX program, as well as bringing on a 777-X program to carry forward the success of a jet family that is a brilliant reminder of what Boeing achieved with a design that came from an engineering centric Boeing that was all but totally destroyed after the McDonnell Douglas merger.
It may be, when the management histories of these times are written, that airlines become case studies of how engineering expertise and rational analysis of technical claims was sidelined or expelled by executives and boards that were peculiarly vulnerable to being mislead about the merits of new technologies based on sales opportunities rather than hard facts.
Qantas, the world’s second largest 787 customer, has 50 Dreamliners on firm order according to current guidance, 15 of them -8s and 35 of them -9s, the more capably specified model for which Air New Zealand is the launch customer.
Four years after Qantas actually knew that the program was starting to slip, it continues to rabbit on about the immediacy and benefits of the Dreamliners, without even the slightest sign of recognising that it has been willingly fooled, and with no clear and reliable indication as to exactly what it is going to get and when.