Monday 25 March 2019

John Mulligan: 'Maker fails to ease public or industry fears over its state-of-the-art plane'

 

Investors have been ditching shares in the $211bn (€187bn) company as it struggles to get to grips with possibly the second major technical issue in six years for the aircraft maker on its next generation of jets. Photo: REUTERS
Investors have been ditching shares in the $211bn (€187bn) company as it struggles to get to grips with possibly the second major technical issue in six years for the aircraft maker on its next generation of jets. Photo: REUTERS
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Boeing has a big problem on its hands. The stakes - human and financial - are huge.

Two deadly crashes of its Max 8 jets within the space of just a few months have left it fighting to reassure passengers, airlines and regulators that the aircraft is safe. So far, it has widely failed to do so.

Investors have been ditching shares in the $211bn (€187bn) company as it struggles to get to grips with possibly the second major technical issue in six years for the aircraft maker on its next generation of jets.

Analysts at investment bank Jefferies reckon that if the current investigation leads to a halt of deliveries of new Max 8s, it would cost Boeing about $5.1bn (€4.5bn), 5pc of annual revenue, in just two months.

Boeing has had to ground planes before.

In 2013, days after it had delivered a brand new 787-8 Dreamliner to Japan Airways, a fire started on board the aircraft at Boston Airport. Passengers had been disembarked just minutes earlier.

The fire was caused by an issue with the lithium-ion battery used to power the aircraft's auxiliary power unit - the system that powers aircraft on the ground.

Days later, another battery fault on another Dreamliner prompted the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ground the entire 787 fleet in the United States.

It was almost unprecedented - the last time the FAA had done something similar had been in 1979. It took three months and huge cost to retrofit the Dreamliners and get them back in the air.

With decisions by authorities in Asia and Europe to ground the 737 Max 8, the pressure is being heaped on the FAA to follow suit.

The Max 8 is a new aircraft. The first orders only rolled off the production line in Seattle last year.

New aircraft undergo years of rigorous testing before they are cleared by regulators to operate scheduled flights.

But with new planes becoming increasingly high-tech, there are a lot more systems, computers and technologies that present often very different kinds of challenges than those on older generations of jets.

Undoubtedly, passengers generally benefit from the advances. The Dreamliner, for instance, uses on-board computers to adjust the wings during flight to reduce turbulence. Boeing's Max aircraft are significantly quieter inside for passengers than older 737s.

But technological advances create complexity and that can mean more chances for things to go wrong.

At an air traffic management conference in Madrid this week, a European Commission source said he thinks cargo planes may soon require just one pilot instead of two - and eventually will be pilotless in the air.

The aviation industry is awaiting what promises to be an evolution in air travel.

Passengers may be a bit more reluctant to embrace it.

Irish Independent

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