It’s hard for us to know what confidential conversations go on between Boeing 787 executives and their airline customers. As a rule, Boeing is mum on such exchanges. But it’s hard to imagine, the initial 15 customers that Boeing expects will be affected by the six-month delay in 787 deliveries didn’t factor schedule changes into their plans. Boeing announced yesterday that 787 deliveries are being pushed from May to the end of next year.
Damian Martin, a spokesman for All Nippon Airways (ANA), Boeing first customer for 787, declined to discuss its agreements with Boeing, but did send along ANA’s press statement: "We regret that delivery of the 787 will be delayed and we hope to keep the impact of the delay to a minimum. Going forward, we will work closely with Boeing on preparation for the actual delivery." Read what you will into ANA’s statement, but there is privileged communication between ANA and Boeing that we’ll never know until someone does a book on the 787. My one thought is that ANA - a very loyal Boeing customer - is adopting a tough stance. It could have said "We understand that completing the 787 is a complex task and full of unknowns." Instead it said "it regrets the delay," suggesting ANA is taking a hit and will impose penalties as defined in its Boeing contracts.
I’m told yesterday’s news will not trigger any management or engineering executive changes. In the politburo-watch department, the absence of 787 VP and GM Mike Bair from yesterday’s call was painfully obvious although he was mentioned once. As 787 development chief, he has led the discussion on the two previous 787 update calls that I have particpated in. A spokeswoman told me that he was simultaneously relaying the delay news to the 787 team and answering questions. The media and analysts embarassed themselves by asking the same question repeatedly in yesterday’s call. Three or four times, they asked why Boeing has confidence that it can meet its original 2009 production schedule in light of the latest and largest of the three delays so far. And three or four times, they got the same canned answer.
A couple of readers of yesterday’s story offered their theories behind the delay. Software engineer Richard Williams said he does not buy that the problems can be traced to a fastener shortage or the dive the aircraft industry took after 9/11. Rather, he thinks avionics software is hung up by the effects of the RTCA/DO-178b standard, which certifies avionics software and in his opinion causes unecessary delays in the delivery of same. In yesterday’s call, Boeing executives - there were three on the call: CEO W. James McNerney Jr., CFO James A. Bell and Commercial Planes CEO Scott E, Carson (numbers 1, 3 and 4 in the Boeing corporate hierarchy, respectively) – downplayed the avionics software lag, but conceded they welcome more time to test it.
Mark Belgen applauds Boeing for not taking shortcuts - "It instills a while lot more confidence in their aircraft." - but worries about so much parts offshoring. "This demonstrates the U.S.’s vulnerability to parts availability due to offshored companies. It is only going to get worse and I believe poses a serious threat to national security."
Indeed, the logistics of 40-50 major worldwise suppliers who in turn depend on several supplier sub-tiers to provide 70% of the parts for the 787 is mind-boggling. Then the planes get snapped together in as little as three days! While it might be doable, it would seem rife with potential points of failure. The WSJ reported this morning that Boeing officials said the distributed manufactruing has saved the company more the $1 billion in up front development costs.
What do you think?