Will the 787 Ever Fly?
Boeing's advertising states: "Would an idea that great (the 787) fly?...It will, and like nothing else."
Thoughts and facts on the 787 program for anyone considering flying on one someday, if the 787 ever enters service successfully:
Boeing's commercials on NBC and other networks say yes, it will. I, as one of the most knowledgeable inspectors at Boeing (my coworker's opinions, not mine), am not so sure. Yes, I believe we all think it will fly at least for some time, but I am one that has an informed pessimism about the viability of the program, not because I would wish the 787 program to fail, of course, but because of the corruption I have witnessed in QA management at Boeing.
Although engineers can and do make mistakes on every airplane program, I think it is much more likely that the rollerstamping going on at Boeing in QA and the related management belief that nothing except minimizing the cost of building the airplane to Boeing and maximizing the value Boeing gets compensated for each airplane matters, even if required for the quality, safety, and reliability of the airplane, and even if required by laws and regulations, will cause such a program failure, if anything. A partial list of reasons to be skeptical of the 787 program's ultimate success:
1. New technology. The 787 may prove to be the "Comet" of the 21st Century, especially considering the pressure to meet schedule, cost, and weight goals. Ironically, Boeing (per the press) is keen on reducing window frame weight on the 787 to a minimum. A Link to The Comet's tragic history.
2. The shortest flowtimes of assembly possible (or even not possible. Some assembly problems will inevitably not be fixed until after the airplane is delivered to the customer airlines, and some will never be fixed, even if Boeing knows about their existence, because they will be able to find an engineer on their payroll to do a "global buyoff" of the defect, allowing it to exist in the fleet without even notifying the customers of its existence on their airplanes.
These "global buyoffs" have been a common thing in the current rollerstamping Boeing "quality" system, and they save Boeing much money they can add to their bottom line by not having to go out and spend the money to fix the defects in the fleet.
One of the most critical findings from the "investigation" of my report was, in effect, "rollerstamped" by one of these Boeing engineer's "global buyoffs" when there was no way they could have even known the extent or severity of the possible critical defects in the fleet without doing a detailed fleet inspection, at a minimum, first, before any informed and expert decision could be made.
"It's all good", "it would cost too much money and damage our reputation if we tried to fix it", and "we don't think anything has crashed yet because of it" should not be parts of decisionmaking during these "global buyoffs," lest the wrong decision is made with possibly tragic consequences.
Yet some engineers at Boeing make such "global buyoffs" with judgments that are not technical in nature, and not based solely upon the facts, but seem to rely on an almost Godlike ability that would allow the engineer to know the exact extent and severity of each defect on each airplane in the fleet without doing the physical inspections of each airplane or a representative sample of the fleet that would otherwise be required in order to make such a decision.
"Remote viewing" comes to mind as the ability some of these otherwise "leaps of faith" decisions such as the one I described during the "investigation" of my report require, although on a scale and clarity not before even claimed by those very, very few who claim to have this never before scientifically proven ability. But, I strongly doubt you will find any engineer at Boeing who claims they made such a decision based upon such "supernatural" abilities.
That leaves open the question on what did they base their decisions on if they could not possibly know the severity or extent of the defects they were "globally" buying off. The one instance I noted is not the only instance of such highly questionable "global buyoffs" I have seen made at BCA. Boeing also lets the engineer who designed the defective assembly make the "global buyoff" decision on that assembly, even it was admittedly their design mistake that was at issue in the "global buyoff."
Me, the "messenger" of one such defect (as I wrote the nonconformance record on it) came under attack by one such engineer, who was also a DER (another subject of Boeing and FAA corruption altogether), who emailed my boss to try to get me in trouble for what he saw as "criticism" of his design, and not the obvious defect it was to an unbiased and sufficiently knowledgeable person.
The engineer "designed it that way" (purposely not meeting specifications) was the engineer's first bogus argument. When it became obvious that his "reading" of the engineering specifications was wrong (what does that tell you about this Boeing DER), he changed the drawing so that it was impossible to fix the defect, while not addressing or eliminating the defect itself.
I attempted to point this out to the people who had to accept or reject corrective action for the defect, but my corrupt manager of the time told me to drop it, in no uncertain terms.
I got his message then that I would be disciplined if I did the right thing. And because of this, thousands of 737NG airplanes are flying around with these 180-odd defects per plane effectively unaddressed because of just this one happenstance of the broken culture at Boeing, where cost and schedule (and personal egos, even) trump all else, and Boeing aiplanes suffer because of it.
Will this culture continue on to the 787 program? I think obviously so. Stories in the news seem to confirm this. Someone on the program leaked pictures of a 787 body join defect to the press, apparently because they were concerned about the way the defect was or was not being fixed or were disgusted by Boeing's withholding of such huge problems on the program from the press while telling them the program was going extremely well, which is illegal in and of itself. My extensive efforts to end this culture have so far failed, and so have Boeing's purported "ethics reforms." Cost and schedule are treated as even more important on the 787 program than has ever before been the case on any Boeing airplane progam, in my informed opinion. Anyway, after this diversion, on with the list.).
3. Incredible pressure to avoid Airbus's A380 missing of schedules that may make the first flight of the 787 more risky than it otherwise would or should be.
4. Boeing's history of placing schedule and cost above all other considerations, especially things it considers "non-value added," such as inspections and tests.
5. Reduced oversight of suppliers, when suppliers supply the vast majority of the 787.
6. An almost certain pressure on inspectors such as I experienced at BCA to not document defects in supplied airplane components, even if the defect is obvious and serious, as it was supposedly inspected at the supplier, and we didn't look at their work, even though we had responsibility for the component's integration with the airplane and ultimate airworthiness.
7. An FAA that will not perform unbiased and effective oversight of Boeing's production processes.
8. An FAA that will not perform unbiased and effective oversight of Boeing's suppliers' production processes.
9. The 787 program leader's recent public admission that Boeing was designing parts closer to minimum safety margins.
10. The FAA's inevitable granting of a type certificate for the airplane, regardless of whether it was earned or not.
11. The pressure on the FAA to "rollerstamp" type certification tests on the 787 if the 787 flight test airplanes are produced later than originally scheduled for the certification program. Just as inspectors were expected to rollerstamp final inspections and shakedown inspections at my workplace to make up for shop being late with getting the hardware built (or as my boss called it, "altering our processes to meet the delivery schedule") so that the hardware delivery would not be delayed for inspections that were viewed as optional and "non-value added" even though they were not, the FAA will likely be under similar pressure (actual and/or imagined) from what they see as their only customer--Boeing--to rollerstamp certification tests so that the 787 will deliver as scheduled in May, 2008. The FAA is about as independent from Boeing as my QA management was from the Mfg management whose work it was QA's duty to independently ensure the quality and safety of, which means there is effectively no independence between the two, and, as at Boeing, the FAA defers to Boeing's goals the same way we, the supposedly independent QA department of Boeing, were told to defer to Mfg management's cost and schedule goals, as our regulatorily required "goals" were not deemed by our management as as important as their goals were.
12. The FAA's inevitable granting of a production certificate for the airplane, with Boeing's production system in the state documented on this site, which shows the true value of such production certificates as far as proving compliance with the regulations at Boeing, and that value, as it will be on the 787 program, is virtually nil due to FAA corruption.
13. The inevitable party Boeing and the FAA are likely planning for now in which such certificates are granted, backs slapped, champaign drunk, winks exchanged, and which show for a brief moment publicly the true state of "independence" between Boeing and the FAA.
All this, and more, point to why I have an informed pessimism about the 787's future and viability. Will an incident happen that kills the program because of these things, and other reasons? I dearly hope not, just as I hope all of the work I've seen rollerstamped by inspectors over the years does not cause deaths, injuries, or other losses. However, hope cannot prevent the inevitable consequences of such corruption, although hope is essentially Boeing's quality assurance system. When you do not ensure the quality, safety, and reliability of airplanes you produce as required, hope (the crossing of fingers), is the only thing that can fill the void of all of those rollerstamped inspections that makes the conformity and safety of the airplanes unknown.
But probably the main reason I believe the 787 program is in serious doubt is the fact that my QA Director at BCA, who was there when I was transfered to a desk job to keep me from actually inspecting airplane hardware, and who used to stop by my cubicle and ask me "are they keeping you busy?," is now head of 787 Quality. Knowing this person intimately gives me a special insight into the 787 Quality program, I believe, and how that program may lead to 787 production problems.
What he did to me to keep me from actually inspecting instead of rollerstamping is not the issue here. The issue is that his lack of ethics shown by his actions and his bias against inspectors and those inspectors actually being allowed to do their inspections with the necessary integrity was exported with him to the entire 787 program when he left PSD and became the head of Quality for the whole 787 program.
This is what concerns me most about the quality, safety, and reliability of the 787, which for the most part can only be ensured by independent inspections by highly knowledgeable inspectors that are allowed to do their critical jobs no matter how far behind schedule Manufacturing is. The 787 is still built in Everett by humans, and not hypothetically error-proof machines. Wherever humans build safety critical products, independent inspections will always be required. Dr. W. Edwards Deming believed so, and the regulations and quality systems for aircraft production were designed that way until recently when people more interested (because they largely were MBA-type people and knew next to nothing about aircraft production requirements when they entered the industry in key posts in QA) in business performance than airplane safety started to tinker with things.
That is not what the modus operandi was (inspections required to be done no matter how late Mfg was) at PSD when the current head of 787 Quality was QA Director there. Inspectors were told to "alter their processes to meet the delivery schedule" in many different ways, which meant mandatory inspections were optional when schedule concerns dictated it. Of course, even if inspections were rollerstamped with greater abandon to meet the schedule at management request, that didn't mean by far that rollerstamping did not occur if shop was on schedule.
The state of the quality system as documented on this site is the same state it was in during his reign as QA Director of PSD.
Why should you be concerned that the quality system as documented on this site was exported with this person to the 787 program?
You should be concerned for many reasons. Under such a quality system in which QA management interferes with inspectors doing their jobs because of cost and schedule goals, the quality, safety, and reliability of the aircraft cannot be assured as required. The documentation (whether documented on computer or paper) that purports to prove that the aircraft was built per engineering specifications and drawings then necessarily become suspect, just as the quality, safety, and reliability of the airplane does.
In the olden days some Boeing managers (per a Seattle Post Intelligencer article, I believe) allegedly told their mechanics to cover defects up because "the airplane was designed two and a half times as strong as it needed to be by Engineering." Unfortunately the same sentiment lives on at Boeing, even though safety margins have been wittled down to one and a half times limit load. I saw this attitude many times at Boeing. There were people even in QA that didn't care if a part was damaged beyond maximum limits, as they thought the defect wouldn't cause the plane to crash. Never mind that it was only their job to document those defects and let engineers decide such things.
So, it is a mishmash of these things that I think will be a serious threat to the 787 program. An attitude by QA management that inspectors are "non-value added", and the plane won't crash no matter what defect they miss in their "inspections," assuming there is time left in the schedule for them to perform them after shop has finished the work.
A long held goal of Boeing (ask the IAM union) is to get rid of inspectors and let mechanics buy off their own work to smooth production flow so moving lines never slow down because some inspector like me persists in doing their critical jobs right, no matter how much their management tries to convince them their jobs are purely optional.
The FAA facilitates anything Boeing wants in this regard, as well as delegates its already "so lax it is practically non-existant" oversight to Boeing independent of any rational reason for doing so. Indeed, I suspect Boeing has already been delegated much greater risk FAA functions than it has in past programs, at this stage on the 787 program. And a corrupt FAA, not any sort of compliance methodology for this excessive delegation, is the reason.
Of course, Boeing will probably seek some validation its 787 quality system is working for P.R. purposes. Maybe a J.D. Power like trophy for quality, or something much more aviation related. I wouldn't trust anyone's life to such an award if they do receive one, however, for the aforesaid reasons.
So that's pretty much it for the reasons for my pessimism on the viability of the 787 program. I could add more, but there is no need to list everything here. To counterpoint the smoke and mirrors of Boeing 787 advertising and glowing P.R. there must be realism, and I am offering that here for anyone who wants to look behind the marketing and P.R. spin.
The latest news has confirmed what you have read above--first flight delayed, continuing problems at suppliers that don't know how to design/build airplanes, more money spent on R&D than expected in order to attempt to fix problems on the program, a statement by Boeing's CFO that Boeing has seven billion dollars in the bank to rescue the program if something really bad goes wrong with the program.
But there is just one bright spot if the 787 program becomes the A380 program for Boeing, and worse, fails altogether, and it is one that was made possible solely by Boeing management, and may be their sole contribution to the program if the program should fail:
No significant numbers of Boeing employees will be affected by the failure of the program, as no significant numbers of Boeing employees will ever work on the program. The hit to employment of the employees who actually would build, inspect, and sustaining engineer what little of the 787 work Boeing would be responsible for will be much less than if Boeing had given its employees much more of a stake in its success, like it did in past airplane programs, than it ultimately did, in the case of the 787 program.