The goodwill Boeing rebuilt when the Dreamliner finally made its first flight has been dissipated by the delay over improperly installed horizontal stabilizer, and Thursday's warning that it might not make its delivery to Japans ANA by the end of the year.
My first reaction on hearing that the much-delayed 787 Dreamliner might be delayed yet again was akin to being a passenger. You know: When the pilot comes on the P.A. system to say, “We’re going to be here for a few moments while the mechanic… “
Everybody on the plane silently says, “You take as much time as you need!”
The 787 is the most complex passenger airliner ever built, from its (over) extended global supply chain to its use of composite materials. The flier says: Take as much time as you need to get this right.
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By Thursday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange, Boeing shares were off about 40 cents in a down market day, pretty much tracking the Dow. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Good in that it shows some tolerance for the 787 program’s challenges. Bad in that Boeing’s continued broken assurances keep defining expectations downward.
When I asked aviation consultant Scott Hamilton about how the latest possible setback might affect Boeing’s credibility, he was succinct:
“What credibility?” said Hamilton, of Leeham Co. “Seriously, Wall Street has long since been skeptical of anything Boeing says. This is a big yawner today.”
In other words, the goodwill Boeing rebuilt when the Dreamliner finally made its first flight has been dissipated by the delay over improperly installed horizontal stabilizers and Thursday’s warning that it might not make its delivery to Japan’s ANA by the end of the year.
Dissipation might turn ugly if Boeing were to hold up the program too many more times. If a delay of a “few weeks” into the new year dragged into the end of the first quarter, investors and customers might not just yawn. The sharp questions wouldn’t just concern the unwieldy supply chain, but the chain of executive decisions and leadership as well.
But the bigger challenge is the window opening in the world economy, where a recovering Asia wants to buy airliners — exactly the kind of advanced, fuel-efficient, long-haul birds that Boeing promises in the Dreamliner. This is where the growth exists: The $3 trillion in new airplane demand over the next 20 years cited by Boeing. Relatively little of it may come from the United States or a Europe facing its sovereign debt issues.
The window might not stay open. Even without China and India being tripped up by America’s tepid recovery or a double-dip recession, their high rates of growth are unsustainable. Fears of a China bubble haven’t gone away.
Of course, Airbus will happily take lost Boeing orders, even if it can’t really offer the capabilities of the Dreamliner.
So, yawns or not, this is Boeing’s gut-check time. It’s not good when your inability to execute becomes a given.
You may reach Jon Talton at email@example.com