Boeing: Dream on the line?

January 18, 2013 - 2:15:47 am


Boeing is in trouble, and so are the airlines flying the much fabled and vaunted Dreamliner. The American aircraft manufacturer is in the news for the wrong reasons. A slew of glitches in the Dreamliner being used by eight airlines in the world has led to the grounding of the aircraft by all the carriers. 

A number of problems—cracked cockpit window to an oil leak in engine — contributed to the skepticism around the safety of the plane. A smoke-filled cockpit in an All Nippon Airways (ANA) in Japan on Wednesday triggered a virtual worldwide alert in the aviation fraternity, leading to two leading carriers grounding its fleet of the Boeing 787, another name of the Dreamliner. The last straw came yesterday when the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a directive saying that all aircraft of the make need to be grounded. The US aviation watchdog, the directives of which are taken very seriously by the aviation community, said that airlines must alleviate battery safety concerns before reflying the aircraft model. There are around 50 Dreamliners in service, and all of them are now in the hangars. Though glitches in aircraft models are quite common and it is not rare for airlines to launch safety probes, the scale of the current problem seems gigantic. The Seattle-based aircraft maker has immediately gone on the defensive, alluding to teething problems and saying that it is completely safe to fly the Boeing 787.

The Dreamliner has been designed to enable it to fly longer distances without refuelling. 

Boeing’s contention is that the battery-related problem is not a huge one and airlines would not have a hard time getting around it. 

The Lithium-ion battery which led to the fire and fury on the Japanese carrier is part of all modern gadgets like tablet computers, phones and navigation devices. However, there have been safety issues with this type of battery

Batteries aside, there are larger issues when it comes to aircraft making. In the brouhaha generated after the crisis, the larger picture may be missed. Aircraft makers grapple with a series of challenges from supply chain management to the efficacy of using original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). In the era of outsourcing, these gargantuan establishments rely on a set of scattered units spread across the globe. Outsourcing may cut costs and lead to better economies, but where critical operations are concerned, quality may be the casualty.  More than ‘Made in A’ or Made in B’ tags it is the efficacy of the management model that is more relevant. A probe is on and the battery involved in the ANA emergency was probably made in Japan. The battery glitch may be a relatively small problem What needs to be focused on is better integration of systems in a large global footprint of manufacturing practices so that bigger problems are less likely to occur.