Nuts and Bolts

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No, the headline isn’t about a bloke who’s had a few too many down at the pub head butting a drinker and then bolting the scene. We wish it was. A bit of violence might put you on edge for a moment or two. But what’s going on at Boeing; now that’s really scary. You see, it’s about the quality problems that are surfacing at Boeing.

A recent article by the Post and Courier available here suggests there are real issues with the way Boeing is quality assuring its airplane:

Airline surveys point to ongoing production problems at Boeing’s SC plant

Yes, those are the very things that you and I fly around in. We don’t want them to fall to bits when we’re 6 miles up in the air. In fact, any distance in the air. Any. Distance.

Now after the 737 MAX imbroglio, the last thing the aerospace company needs is customer complaints about product quality. But that’s exactly what’s happening concerning the company’s South Carolina plant’s 787 Dreamliner assembly line where “unacceptable” production mistakes on delivered aircraft have been identified on newly delivered aircraft. Ops!

The article goes on to highlight some of these:

While Boeing received an overall average score of 3.5 out of 5, customer comments included in the surveys provide insight into the types of manufacturing problems workers at the site have reported to the newspaper and other media in recent months. For example, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines called the factory’s quality control “way below acceptable standards” for a 787-10 delivered at North Charleston in June. The plane included a special livery to celebrate the carrier’s 100th anniversary. KLM noted several issues, including a loose seat, missing or wrongly installed cotter pins, nuts not fully tightened, an unsecured fuel line clamp and several unspecified missing parts.

And you might wonder what else Boeing hasn’t checked on the aircraft and others like it. As Tim Newman commented here at the time of the second 737 MAX crash:

I can’t claim to know how Boeing is run, but if they’re anything like most modern corporations they’ll prize unwavering loyalty to management diktat over and above competence, experience, honesty, courage, and character. Decision-making is likely to consist of bright young things in nice clothes giving PowerPoint presentations to their bosses telling them what they want to hear, and those bosses will do the same for their bosses right up through the hierarchy. If an engineer pipes up that something is badly wrong, he’ll be told in no uncertain terms to get with the program and realign his attitude or his career will suffer. In addition, it’s likely that as Boeing’s business became more about buttering up government and lobbying the FAA to turn a blind eye, they got worse at making planes which didn’t crash.

As the above post later points out, those in charge at Boeing aren’t the engineers. In fact such technical skill seems very absent in the boardroom. Let’s just have a look at who makes up Boeing’s board of directors:

Robert Bradway is from the biotech industry.

David Calhoun, a director, is a long term manager from GE with only limited experience of aircraft from working at GE Aircraft Engines.

Arthur Collins comes from healthcare.

Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr. from the navy, obviously, and was in nuclear submarines.

Lynn Good previously worked for a utility company.

Nikki Haley was ambassador to the UN.

Lawrence Kellner was chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines. Nuff said.

Caroline Kennedy is a former ambassador to Japan.

Edward Liddy has an insurance background.

Dennis Muilenburg is the chairman, president and CEO, and, by golly, has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering.

Susan Schwab is a former U.S. trade representative.

Ronald Williams has a healthcare and finance background

Mike Zafirovski is another GE manager.

It would appear that, apart from Muilenburg, none of the board of this major aerospace company has a background that provides them with insights into the issues and challenges of designing, engineering, and building “safe” aircraft.

A quick look at Airbus suggests it’s not much better there. The CEO Guillame Faury has a good background in both flying and aerospace engineering. But much like Boeing, the rest of board haven’t an aerospace background, though some of them have engineering degrees.

Looking at the above lot, it hardly encourages us all to insert ourselves into a long metal tube with wings and engines and watch and wait as the pilot takes us up to be with the angels. Perhaps if the problems in such organisations are as deep rooted as they appear to be, we’ll be joining the angels sooner than we expect.

Time to holiday at home, perhaps?

 

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