In a recent investigation, The Wall Street Journal revealed long-standing concerns within Boeing about its manufacturing practices, which led to a series of quality problems that culminated in the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines crash. This is the second case now.
The incident highlights challenges facing Boeing's overall strategy of outsourcing aircraft manufacturing and raises new concerns about the regulation of its manufacturing operations.
External sources raise concerns
The roots of Boeing's manufacturing challenges can be traced to a controversial 2001 white paper by aerospace engineer John Hart Smith that warned of the dangers of excessive outsourcing and highlighted The importance of on-site quality and technical support from Boeing. major manufacturers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, despite the logical approach this article takes, the concerns it raises have not been adequately addressed.
The newspaper went on to note that more than two decades later, Boeing is facing the fallout from its outsourcing strategy, as evidenced by a series of quality issues, including fatal crashes involving 737 Max 8 aircraft in 2018 and 2019, explaining that the Alaska Airlines incident A recent case of a Max 9 aircraft cabin exploding during flightHintensifying scrutiny of Boeing's manufacturing operations.
The newspaper pointed out that one of the important parts of Boeing's manufacturing chain is Spirit Aerosystems, which is the sole supplier of airframes for many Boeing models, as the battle over cost and quality issues and the discontinuation of the “MAX” have damaged their relationship. . For Spirit, the coronavirus pandemic has strained financial resources, leading to significant layoffs and a shortage of specialized talent when demand picks up again.
Complaints from Spirit employees revealed production problems and internal quality problems, raising questions about the safety of Boeing planes around the world.
Cornell Bird, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers chapter, claimed that tight deadline pressure faced by Spirit Airlines employees has led to undetected defects in aircraft currently deployed around the world, the newspaper reported.
Both Boeing and Spirit confirmed their commitment to safety and cooperation with investigators. However, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced that it would strengthen supervision of Boeing aircraft manufacturing and announced a review of the production of the Max 9.
FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker said the root cause of the Alaska accident was a manufacturing problem, not a design flaw.
It is worth noting that the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded 171 Max 9 aircraft last week after the explosion.
In a watershed moment, Boeing CEO David Calhoun admitted during an all-hands meeting at the Renton, Washington, factory that he and his company were responsible for the latest safety lapse.
While Calhoun did not specify the source of the problem, he stressed that Boeing has ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety of the planes leaving the factory. The admission runs counter to previous attempts to shift blame for Max 8 crashes and signals a new era of accountability, the Wall Street Journal reported.
However, concerns remain about Boeing's ability to correct its manufacturing problems. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Boeing Commercial Aviation chief Stan Diehl emphasized the need to “own” the entire aircraft manufacturing process, noting that the company has not yet succeeded in completely solving manufacturing challenges during Calhoun's tenure since 2020. , leaving her grappling with her tarnished reputation.
Challenges of outsourcing factories
Boeing's outsourcing strategy reflects a broader trend in modern manufacturing where parts are produced by different companies before final assembly. While this approach is designed to reduce costs and increase flexibility, it exposes the company to greater risk because the reliability of the final product depends on less efficient suppliers.
Engineers interviewed by the newspaper said the complexities of overseeing disparate supply chains and manufacturing add to the complexity of Boeing's manufacturing operations.
Boeing's main rival Airbus has taken a similar approach, outsourcing parts globally. However, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury stressed the importance of “monitoring” suppliers to ensure quality and acknowledged the risks inherent in these manufacturing methods.
lessons from history
The newspaper concluded that the problems currently facing Boeing are not new, but they reflect past mistakes, especially the extensive outsourcing strategy used in the development of the 787 Dreamliner aircraft in the 2000s.
Although this approach was intended to reduce costs and risks, it resulted in production delays and unplanned costs. The newspaper pointed out that although the “Max” model does not adopt a new design, it faces continued challenges, with more than 11,000 units and 737 aircraft delivered since its inception in 1968.
The Wall Street Journal said the Max model launched in 2017 experienced outages after a fatal accident, further highlighting the complexity of managing distributed manufacturing systems, especially during disruptions such as the Covid-19 pandemic.