Is outsourcing to blame for Boeing’s battery problem?
Boeing has admitted before that the long delays in the Dreamliner program can be blamed, in part, on a heavy reliance on outsourcing the design work. But can the current problems with the batteries and electrical systems also be blamed on that outsourcing?
Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia believes then-commercial airplanes CEO Alan Mullaly didn’t want to outsource so much work when the Dreamliner was in its infancy, but he did to get the plane in the air.
Aboulafia believes the delays in launch and now possibly the problems with the batteries and electrical system can be attributed to that work being pushed out of Puget Sound.
“The result, of course, was a 787 program that was somewhat underfunded because there was a great belief that the first-tier integrators would do so much of the heavy lifting,” Aboulafia said. “That didn’t work out so good, and then you got to the crazy, insane ‘Oh my God it’s all gone horribly wrong, throw money at it’ level which is where we are now.”
Boeing Vice President of Marketing Randy Tinseth wouldn’t go so far to blame the current battery issue on outsourcing, but he did admit to an aerospace conference in Lynnwood Wednesday, that the company did rely too heavily on it suppliers.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we went, initially, too far on the  in asking our suppliers to do too much, asking them to manage a very complicated supply chain in a way they weren’t comfortable with.”
Boeing has since pulled back a lot of the work, and it’s looking for the right balance of in-and-out-house work, and while Tinseth wouldn’t discuss the 787 battery problems or the investigation, he did tell the conference solving the problem is the company’s top priority.
“Our teams are working 24/7,” Tinseth said. “They’re working with the FAA. They’re working with other government agencies to get the airplane back in the air.”
So how long is that going to take?
Analyst Aboulafia said it’s surprising to him that it’s taking this long to find out what’s happening with the batteries and electrical system.
“It’s a little scary because you want something that’s easily explicable, something that can be rectified, and they don’t appear to be there yet,” Aboulafia said. “They’re working on theories. We’re sort of hoping it’s almost like a hand of God thing ‘ah that was it, end of problem,’ but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.”
Aboulafia believes Boeing is facing redesigning portions of the airplane which could extend the current grounding for months.
“If it is a redesign of a system that requires re-certification, your talking at a bare minimum six to nine months after you discover what’s wrong,” he said. “However, if there’s a work-around that’s provided, you could see a return to service for these aircraft, but there are no guarantees.”
Aboulafia said it’s possible the FAA could allow the 787 back into passenger service during the redesign, the work-around that he mentioned. The FAA has allowed that before in other cases before.
But despite the pain right now, Aboulafia still believes in the 787 and in Boeing.
“In the long run, I still think they’ll get it right,” he said. “It will still be a big success. We’re keeping the faith despite what I think we all agree will be a really difficult year for the program.”
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