Posts Tagged ‘Boeing’

Airbus invokes “Plan B” while Dreamliner remains grounded till the summer

February 20, 2013

The Boeing Dreamliner which was grounded globally on January 16th will remain grounded at least till the end of March and possibly till the summer. United Airlines has removed the Dreamliner from all its schedules till March 30th. But LOT Polish Airlines which flies Boeing 767’s and was hoping for these to be replaced by 5 Dreamliners at the end of March has extended the lease for the 767’s (apparently at Boeing’s insistence) for a further 6 months till October 2013.

All Nippon Airways, which has 17 Dreamliners in its fleet says it has lost 15.4 million of sales revenues just in January. But ANA has kept its profit forecast for the fiscal year through March unchanged at about $44 million.

All Nippon has not asked Boeing for compensation linked to the grounded 787s but will discuss the issue once the total financial effect is more clear, said the executive vice president, Kiyoshi Tonomoto, according to Reuters.

The battery problem has yet to be resolved but there was further evidence that the cells are prone to overheating and thermal runaways.

Bangkok Post: On January 16, the 50 Dreamliners in service around the world were grounded after a battery fire on a Japan Airlines plane parked in Boston, and battery smoke on an All Nippon Airways flight forced an emergency landing. On Tuesday, a Japanese safety board official said that investigators found a battery on the ANA flight that initially was believed to be intact had also been damaged. Detailed examination of the auxiliary power unit battery revealed that two of its eight cells were misshapen.

One market-matching family

The Airbus A350 family . image

In the meantime Airbus has invoked Plan B and decided to drop the lithium-ion batteries for the A 350 so as not to jeopardise the intoduction of the aircraft in 2014. With the Dreamliner delays and teething problems, Airbus has a golden opportinity to break into the Dreamliner market with a timely introduction of the A350.

Reuters:  Airbus has dropped lithium-ion batteries of the type that forced the grounding of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and will use traditional nickel-cadmium batteries in its crucially important next passenger jet, the A350.

The European planemaker said on Friday it had taken the decision to adopt the batteries used on existing models such as the A380 superjumbo in order to prevent delays in the A350’s entry to service next year. ….. 

“We want to mature the lithium-ion technology but we are making this decision today to protect the A350’s entry-into-service schedule,” an Airbus spokeswoman said. ….

The A350 is due to enter service in the second half of 2014 compared with an initial target of 2012 when it was launched as Europe’s answer to the lightweight 787 Dreamliner. ….

….. Airbus will use the lithium-ion batteries for a maiden flight in mid-year and early flight trials but switch to traditional batteries in time for certification and delivery. …

The lithium-ion battery industry is concerned but not unduly so, since the market for aircraft batteries is just a tiny portion of their market.


Boeing Dreamliner batteries could be “inherently unsafe” while Airbus says it has a Plan B

February 1, 2013

The fault with the Boeing Dreamliner Batteries/electrical systems has not yet been found. This is not good news for Boeing since the grounding of 50 aircraft continues. Each grounded aircraft poses a potential claim on Boeing for about $2.5 million per month. The delay in finding the fault also correspondingly delays the selection of a “fix” and the deployment of that “fix”. And since some 850 aircraft have been ordered and production has not been stopped, the fix has to be deployed on a large number of aircraft.

In the absence of any identified fault Boeing are continuing to defend the 787 batteries and I read this as Boeing defending both the design of the chosen batteries and their decision to select these for use. They cannot really do anything else since they cannot acknowledge any potential liability while compensation claims are up in the air (or down on the ground may be more appropriate!).

Airbus apparently has developed a Plan B in the event an alternative to lithium-ion batteries must be found for the A350.

Airbus warned about the risks of lithium-ion batteries at a closed meeting of airlines in March 2011, according to a presentation first reported by Reuters this week.

“We identified this fragility at the start of development and we think we resolved it about a year ago,” Bregier said. “Nothing prevents us from going back to a classical plan that we have been studying in parallel.”

But there is a view that the design chosen by Boeing is fundamentally unsound – that the design lends itself to the possibility of thermal runaways with overheating and subsequent fires. If the design itself is flawed and there are better designs available, then Boeing’s decision process which resulted in using a flawed design could be more damaging  than any monetary compensation for the actual groundings. Boeing can ill afford a suggestion that their design or decision process itself is flawed. The current investigation is focused on finding any faults in the units as built and not – yet – on the fundamental design itself.

They can probably absorb the financial hit but my guess is that Boeing will lose considerable ground to the Airbus A350 which could take a long time to recoup.


The lithium ion batteries installed on the Boeing 787 are inherently unsafe, says Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and owner of electric car maker Tesla.

“Unfortunately, the pack architecture supplied to Boeing is inherently unsafe,” writes Musk in an email to Flightglobal.

“Large cells without enough space between them to isolate against the cell-to-cell thermal domino effect means it is simply a matter of time before there are more incidents of this nature,” he adds.

Both Boeing and Tesla use batteries fueled by lithium cobalt oxide, which is among the most energy-dense and flammable chemistries of lithium-ion batteries on the market. While Boeing elected to use a battery with a grouping of eight large cells, Tesla’s batteries contain thousands of smaller cells that are independently separated to prevent fire in a single cell from harming the surrounding ones.

“Moreover, when thermal runaway occurs with a big cell, a proportionately larger amount of energy is released and it is very difficult to prevent that energy from then heating up the neighboring cells and causing a domino effect that results in the entire pack catching fire,” says Musk.

…. “They [Boeing] believe they have this under control, although I think there is a fundamental safety issue with the architecture of a pack with large cells,” writes Musk in an email. “It is much harder to maintain an even temperature in a large cell, as the distance from the center of the cell to the edge is much greater, which increases the risk of thermal runaway.” 

Musk’s assessments of battery cells were confirmed by Donald Sadoway, a professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I would have used the same words,” says Sadoway. “I’m glad someone with such a big reputation put it on the line.”

“He’s engineered [Tesla’s battery] to prevent the domino effect, while Boeing evidently doesn’t have that engineering,” adds Sadoway. ….. 

787 battery graphic

from Boeing

Design News:

The issue of battery cooling has been at the forefront of the Boeing story for a week. Donald Sadoway, the John F. Elliott professor of materials chemistry at MIT who is involved in a battery startup with Bill Gates, told us last week that a forced air cooling system and sensors may be needed to monitor and cool the battery in the event of overheating. Elton Cairns, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and a fuel cell designer for NASA’s Gemini spaceflights, also suggested that an air- or liquid-cooled system would be necessary.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner story gets green and murky

January 24, 2013

What seemed to be “normal” teething problems with a new aircraft now seems to be something more. Two stories this week suggest that

  1. pressure from the green lobbies pushed Boeing into using inherently unsafe, large, lithium-ion batteries long before the technology was ready for such use, and
  2. the battery chargers used for charging the lithium-ion batteries did not meet product specifications and were prone to short-circuiting but were shipped anyway to Boeing

If these stories have any substance, Boeing could be forced to replace the lithium-ion batteries with alternative batteries. The consequences could be that that weight will increase and/or the batteries will not be rechargeable (an operating cost increase). Moving away from lithium-ion should not therefore be technically too difficult or prohibitive as far as cost is concerned. Dealing with the compensation to airlines for the grounding of 50 of their aircraft and for an indeterminate length of time could be the main economic hit for Boeing. There will, of course, be a cost for redesigning a “fix” and introducing the fix into the entire fleet but that should not be catastrophic. What may be more significant in the long run will be the loss of customer confidence and the potential loss of sales (or delay of sales) which would help Airbus to improve its competitive position.

Washington Examiner:

Boeing Dreamliner fires spark new doubts about a green energy technology

…. Technologists and safety experts had long warned of problems with the lithium ion battery when in 2009 the president began betting billions of tax dollars that it should be the green power of choice for cars, trucks, and even aircraft. …. Small lithium ion batteries are widely used in consumer electronics, but powering vehicles like a car or an aircraft is a much greater challenge. The 787, for example, has to generate 1.5 megawatts of electrical power, enough to light up several hundred homes. …. 

The problem, according to the MIT Technology Review, is that “because the electrolyte materials used are flammable, no lithium-ion batteries are completely safe.” And last April, the National Fire Protection Association warned that “as lithium-ion battery use increases, so do the concerns related to the fire-safety hazards of these devices.” Some experts believe the batteries have been oversold to the public. “Lithium ion batteries just won’t do the trick in the kind of mass vehicle applications that the environmental community is pushing for,” said Jon Entine, founder of ESG Media Metrics, a Cincinnati-based environmental consulting firm. “It’s kind of glib environmentalism or kind of enviro-romanticism,” said Entine, who is also a senior fellow at George Mason University’s Center for Health and Risk.

…. Before the Dreamliner’s troubles, a Chevrolet Volt caught fire during its crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in May 2011. The agency gave the Volt a clean bill of health after an investigation. Then last year, electric truck manufacturer Smith Electric Vehicles warned potential investors that the lithium ion batteries “on rare occasions have been observed to catch fire or vent smoke and flames” in the firm’s prototype military trucks.

Even in the smaller consumer electronics applications, lithium ion battery fires were reported in Apple and Dell laptop computers in 2005 and 2006.


U.S. NTSB reviewing whistleblower claims in 787 case

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is looking at issues raised by more than one whistleblower as it investigates battery failures that have grounded the global fleet of 50 Boeing Co 787 Dreamliners for a week.

Michael Leon, one of the whistleblowers, said he spoke with an NTSB investigator this week and gave him extensive materials about his claim that he was fired around six years ago for raising safety concerns about Securaplane Technologies Inc., an Arizona company that makes chargers for the highly flammable lithium-ion batteries at the heart of the probe. In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday and in earlier court papers, Leon said Securaplane was rushing to ship chargers that by his assessment did not conform to specifications and could have malfunctioned. …..

…… Securaplane hired Leon as a senior engineering technician in 2004, the same year it won the contract to work on the 787 parts. The company, which was taken over by Meggitt in April 2011, makes three important battery-related systems for the 787 as a subcontractor to France’s Thales SA .

The lithium-ion battery is made by Japan’s GS Yuasa Corp, while Thales is responsible for electric power conversion on the 787, the world’s newest and most electricity-driven airliner. The auxiliary power unit (APU), which powers the airplane’s systems when it is on the ground, is built by a unit of United Technologies Corp.

The Securaplane spokeswoman declined to give details about the value of the company’s contract with Thales for work on the 787, saying those details were confidential. She said she was not aware of any other whistleblower case filed by a Meggitt or Securaplane employee.

Securaplane said it makes two battery charging units used on the 787, one for the APU battery in an aft bay, and one for the main ship battery used in a forward bay, which provides backup power for flight critical controls. …

…… Leon said he refused to ship chargers that he believed had short-circuits, but company officials told him they needed to rush out the orders or risk losing the contract with Thales.

24 aircraft grounded as persistent teething problems with Boeing 787 Dreamliner are impacting operations

January 16, 2013


Now all Boeing Dreamliners in US and India have also been grounded indefinitely. Boeing’s ongoing dispute with unions will not make matters easier. This could be an expensive delay for Boeing.


Japanese airlines are grounding all their Boeing 787 Dreamliners for inspection: ANA are grounding 17 aircraft and JAL is grounding a further 5 to add to the 2 already undergoing inspections. Last week the Federal Aviation Authority ordered a review of the design procedures as well as the manufacturing processes for the Dreamliner but they stopped short of ordering any general grounding of the aircraft. But this review comes just 15 months after the plane was certified by the FAA which is not very usual. The Japanese Transport Ministry has also set up a team to review the design and manufacture of the Dreamliner. Official government reviews are a major setback for airline operations since it shifts the onus onto the airlines and the manufacturer. They now have the daunting task of  “proving a negative” – of “proving” that nothing can occur –  before operating “as normal.

Air India has 6 Dreamliners but so far neither the airline nor the Indian Government have grounded any planes but are following the lead of the US authorities. The other airlines with the 787 in operation are Ethiopian Airlines, LAN Airlines, LOT, Qatar Airways and United Airlines. In all Boeing has some 850  Dreamliners on order.

So far the problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are system problems (electrical and fuel systems) and there is nothing to suggest that the use of composite materials for the  fuselage or that any other structural issues are of concern. But, of course, structural problems take longer to show up.

This baby is going to give Boeing many more sleepless nights.

Boeing Dreamliner has some teething troubles

December 5, 2012

It is only to be expected of course but the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will also surely have its share of teething difficulties. They seem relatively minor so far but the aircraft is after all 3 years late. I have not yet flown on the Dreamliner or the Airbus A380 but will not have any qualms about travelling on either when the opportunity arises. But the 4 engines on the A380 Airbus might be less stressful than just the 2 on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for the first time on a new aircraft!

  1. Chicago Tribune: A brand-new United Airlines “Dreamliner” airplane bound for Newark was diverted Tuesday morning, making an emergency landing in New Orleans because of an undisclosed mechanical problem. On Tuesday, the 7:30 a.m. United flight 1146 from Houston to Newark was diverted to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and landed safely there at 9:25 a.m., the airline said. The plane, the third delivered to United recently, carried 174 customers and 10 crew members. Neither United nor Boeing would describe the problem except to say it was a “mechanical issue.”
  2. Seattle Times:The Federal Aviation Administration is ordering airlines to inspect 787 Dreamliners for improperly installed fuel-line connectors that could result in leaks or even fires. The safety directive, to be published Wednesday, gives airlines a week to check fuel-line system fastening wires and 21 days to check connectors inside the pylons that hold the engines. Fuel leaks were reported by airlines on two in-service 787s, and subsequent inspections by Boeing of jets in service or still in production revealed some fuel line connectors were installed incorrectly.

United Dreamliner: image United

Lufthansa A380 D-AIMA image: wikipedia

Following Indian MMRCA success, Dassaut’s Rafale also tipped for Brazil

February 13, 2012
Dassault’s success in being selected as the lowest bidder for the Indian MMRCA competition with the Rafale aircraft seems to be having a significant impact in other deals. The Rafale is now the most likely winner of the Brazilian contract for 36 aircraft. The aggressive pricing by Dassault and the active (and very effective) lobbying by the French government is a potent combination. The Rafale has not yet been sold outside France and the Indian and Brazilian deals are critical for the future export life of the Rafale.
In Brazil the Rafale is competing against Boeing’s F-18 and Saab’s Gripen. Though Saab is also desperately looking for export orders for the Gripen, it is unlikely that it can afford to drop its prices by the levels that Dassault obviously can. Boeing on the other hand is not so dependent on the Brazilian orders and is unlikely to drop its price by very much – especially since they will not wish to disturb the already very high price levels they enjoy for exports to the Middle-East. And that probably leaves the Rafale sitting very pretty.

Svenska Dagbladet reports (freely translated):


Surprise! Boeing wins $35 billion tanker order

February 25, 2011

Airbus will no doubt protest but if they really expect to displace Boeing for the US Air Force  tankers they are living in a dream world. They should have seen the writing on the wall when the whole contract was re-tendered even after they had won the order for 179 aircraft in 2008. There is no US politician who would have the courage to place such an order outside of the US.

Bloomberg reports:

Boeing Co., the sole supplier of aerial refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force since 1948, beat European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co. for a $35 billion program to build 179 new tankers, the Pentagon said yesterday.

It was the Chicago-based company’s third try at the contract since Congress and the Air Force first proposed the tanker replacement program in late 2001 — a contest in which Boeing was viewed as an underdog, said an analyst.

“Boeing’s victory was a major upset, and not at all what the industry was expecting,” Richard Aboulafia, a military aircraft analyst with the Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, said in an e-mail.

Boeing will manufacture basic 767-model aircraft in Everett, Washington, and convert them into tankers in Wichita, Kansas, during the first stage of a three-part Air Force program stretching decades to replace its tanker fleet.

The initial contract for the development phase was valued at $3.5 billion. The entire first phase covers 13 production lots through 2027. The Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies Corp. will provide the engines. Boeing says the win will create and sustain 50,000 jobs among 800 suppliers in 40 states.


$35 billion US tanker decision imminent: Boeing and Airbus prepare to protest a loss

$35 billion US tanker decision imminent: Boeing and Airbus prepare to protest a loss

February 24, 2011

The much awaited winner of the order for 179 tanker aircraft for the US Air Force worth about $35 billion will be announced after markets close this evening (Thursday 24th February) reports Reuters (via the NYT):

KC-767-200ER/300ER is a credible replacement for the KC-135R: image

The decision, expected after U.S. financial markets close, marks another pivotal point in the Air Force’s nearly decade-long struggle to begin replacing its 50-year-old KC-135 Stratotankers, which refuel fighter planes and other aircraft in mid-flight to extend the range of military operations.

But analysts say there is no guarantee an epic industry battle will end there. The losing bidder is likely to file a protest that could delay — or overturn — the contract.

The competition to supply 179 air-to-air tankers has sparked sporadic transatlantic tensions and clashes in Congress among lawmakers eager to bring jobs to their states. …. Now, the Pentagon is close to giving its decision on the third attempt to replace aging Eisenhower-era tanker planes and senior defense officials say the choice between Boeing and EADS could come on Thursday.

A330 MRTT tanker (EADS)

A330 MRTT tanker (EADS)

Both Boeing and EADS, through its North American subsidiary, are offering specially adapted versions of existing twin-engined wide-body passenger jets: the Boeing 767 and the Airbus A330.

Analysts widely expect the losing side to file a protest against the decision with the Government Accountability Office, the arm of Congress which rules on federal contract disputes.

The Air Force has been trying since 2001 to begin replacing its Boeing-built KC-135 tankers.

An initial $23.5 billion plan to lease and then buy 100 modified Boeing 767s as tankers, fell apart in 2004. …. EADS, partnered with Northrop Grumman Corp, won a 179-plane deal in February 2008, only to have it canceled after government auditors upheld parts of a protest by Boeing.

Northrop subsequently pulled out, leaving the European aerospace and defense company to bid alone.

No surprise: US diplomats acted as Boeing salesmen

January 3, 2011

It comes as no surprise that diplomats and government officials are heavily involved in lobbying and “advocacy” in favour of major corporations in international trade. This applies for sales of all defence equipment, commercial aircraft, major rail transport projects, nuclear and conventional power plant and -in short – virtually all large projects where jobs at the seller’s establishment are involved.

Virtually every visit of a head of government to another country reserves a great deal of time for commercial lobbying activities. Large companies look to such visits to bring purchasing decisions to a head and the months preceding such visits are periods of intense co-operation between commercial sales people, diplomats, bureaucrats and politicians in both countries. So called “agents” (essentially middle-men with “sticky” fingers) thrive on such activity.  During such periods I have seen how diplomats take directions from sales people at private companies or from the “agents”. The ability to access and trigger such “advocacy” is of huge competitive advantage for the companies involved. It is here that large international companies can bring factors outside the conventional sales criteria into play.

It is not just the US or just Boeing involved in such advocacy. Nearly every country indulges in this. The UK (British Aerospace for example), France (Areva and nuclear power or Alstom and High speed trains) or Germany (Siemens for power plants or trains or VW at car factories) are all engaged in similar advocacy. But the particular case of US diplomats acting as salesmen for Boeing is reported by the New York Times from the Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables and these reveal some of the “perks” and extra factors that are brought into play. Such as

The king of Saudi Arabia wanted the United States to outfit his personal jet with the same high-tech devices as Air Force One. The president of Turkey wanted the Obama administration to let a Turkish astronaut sit in on a NASA space flight. And in Bangladesh, the prime minister pressed the State Department to re-establish landing rights at Kennedy International Airport in New York. Each of these government leaders had one thing in common: they were trying to decide whether to buy billions of dollars’ worth of commercial jets from Boeing or its European competitor, Airbus. And United States diplomats were acting like marketing agents, offering deals to heads of state and airline executives whose decisions could be influenced by price, performance and, as with all finicky customers with plenty to spend, perks.

To get the interest of their own politicians and governments every large corporation knows that the magic key is being able to link the sale being pursued to jobs in the home-country and especially in the constituency of the home-politician. “Job creation” is the magic mantra that no politician can resist or can afford to ignore. The use of dubious agents or the use of “undue” influence or the flow of a few percent of the contract value  through some side-channels or the provision of some “perks” to politicians and bureaucrats through the entire chain from supplier to purchaser become critical and pervasive.

When the potential of job creation is involved, questions of ethics are rarely raised and the system of high level corruption is perpetuated.

NYT report

Airbus vs. Boeing: or a tale of the marketing of delays and engine problems

November 26, 2010

For large, complex, expensive, high-technology products (airplanes, turbines, power plants or ships for example) it is usually not worth indulging in too much negative marketing based on a competitor’s technical difficulties. Early technical difficulties and “teething” problems are common and when a competitor has difficulties it usually leads to some feeling of satisfaction but it is tempered by the knowledge that one could easily suffer similar difficulties. So when GE experiences some problem with its gas turbines or Areva has delays in its nuclear plants there will never be an overt, negative marketing campaign by Siemens against GE or by Westinghouse against Areva.

File:Airbus A380.jpg

A380: image wikipedia

And this is the current situation between the Airbus A380 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The A380 had its share of delays and was over 2 years late in coming into service. Right now the troubles that Rolls Royce are having with their Trent 900 engines is not helping the A380 image. (There are only two engines available for the A380 but it is noteworthy that the General Electric / Pratt & Whitney Alliance which manufacture the GP7200 engine which competes with the Trent 900 are not indulging in any overt negative marketing). The “Rolls Royce effect” for Airbus is currently negative because of the Trent 900 issues but it is indirectly mitigated by the reports of delays in developing the Trent 1000 which is one of the engines for Boeing’s 787.

File:Boeing 787first flight.jpg

B787 First flight: image Wikipedia

As Airbus fights to get airlines to accept the A380 their “best friend” strangely is the delays to the B787 Dreamliner program. The Dreamliner has been further delayed by an electrical system fault which caused a fire on a test flight in early November. For an airline the decision of choosing between Boeing and Airbus has become not one of comparing the advantages each has to offer but instead one of judging the risk exposure that a choice may bring. It becomes a comparison of potential “downsides” and risk mitigation possibilities rather than selecting between potential “upsides”.

For Airbus and Boeing, their sales processes now have to emphasise the risk mitigation available with their products rather than promoting all the advantages their products have to offer. This is unusual for a “sales process” but nothing new in the history of marketing of technologically new products. But it is not so easy for corporations, their salesmen and for sales processes to shift from promoting advantages to the much more difficult task of showing that the risks (whether of delay or of technical difficulties) they pose are less than that of the competitor. Even in terms of financing, the usual offers of financing and leasing packages for the customer must now additionally address the mitigation of financial and consequential exposures in the event that a risk materialises. When a single A380 costs around $320 million, a Boeing 747-400 about $250 million and a Dreamliner has a price tag of $150 -200 million, then downtime and delays have enormous financial consequences for the customer. Marketing strategy for new products in the face of heightened risk perceptions is quite different to the marketing of “tried and tested” products. But this is a fascinating marketing challenge!

The latest reports of delays to the Dreamliner has led to harsh words about Boeing from a potential customer. CityAM reports:

QATAR Airways has threatened to hand extra business to European aircraft giant Airbus after attacking Boeing over problems with its new 787 Dreamliner. Chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the airline was considering increasing its order for five Airbus A380 super-jumbo planes and might order a re-engined version of the A320 single-aisle jetliner. He did not say how many more A380s it might order.

Qatar has expanded its fleet from four to 94 aircraft in 13 years and has orders for 200 more from Airbus and its US rival Boeing worth $40bn, including 30 Dreamliners. Al Baker said Boeing had “failed” in developing its 787 Dreamliner, which is expected to suffer further delays following a fire on a test flight.

Boeing’s development of the carbon-composite 787 is running around three years late and brokers expect a further delay as it addresses the cause of a fire which led to the test flight being grounded two weeks ago.

But I would expect that there is a strong element of price negotiation in Qatar Airways’ statement!

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