This posting is another reader update regarding the supply chain aspects related to the Boeing 787 grounding crisis.  Our previous Commentary Eight was published earlier this month, and we know can note some somewhat positive news.

On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved the design modifications for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner battery system, setting the stage for the return of operational aircraft. After roughly three months from the mid-January global grounding of the 787 because of safety concerns related to its battery systems, the stage is now being set for returning all grounded aircraft into service. During this coming week, the FAA will issue instructions to various aircraft operators for making the necessary aircraft modifications.

Boeing has already pre-staged repair kits for the approximately four dozen previously operational 787 aircraft and will now begin dispatching designated technical teams of assist operators in making the necessary modifications to the lithium-ion battery system. According to the FAA, it will also have teams of inspectors at all modifications locations inspecting the changes and signing-off with proper work completed. Reports indicate that other global regulators are expected to follow the FAA lead but at slightly different timetables. Boeing hopes to have all 787’s flying by mid-May.

To summarize the overall impact of this grounding incident on Boeing, one can turn to a quote from an article printed in The Wall Street Journal last Thursday: “…. The extended grounding has cost Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars, tarnished its reputation and infuriated airline customers after they stuck with the company through years of unrelated product delays.”  Our readers will certainly add select partners in the Boeing supply chain to that list of infuriated. According to media reports, Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial has indicated that the company invested over 200,000 hours of engineering, design analysis and testing directly related to the current design modification.

After all operational aircraft are successfully returned to service, Boeing will have to quickly turn its attention to a long line of staged finished Dreamliners that have continued to roll off the final assembly line since January. That number could be 50 or more by May.  These aircraft will also have to be retrofitted with the newly approved modified battery system.  Boeing has already sought FAA permission to conduct multitudes of additional test flights to check on fixes to all of these aircraft.

This next phase needs to include restoring the confidence of the flying public in the safety of this aircraft. According to the WSJ, Boeing has elected not to take on the primary role, as originally planned, but to assist operators in various local public relations JAL787_APU_Battery2 440_293efforts designed to rebuild confidence in the 787 as a safe airplane.  Many avid flyers have probably viewed the photos of the previous charred and somewhat melted battery compartment.

As we have noted to numerous other Supply Chain Matters commentaries, Boeing’s prior challenge, prior to the current grounding incident, was to operationally ramp-up the 787 production schedule to levels not seen by the Boeing supply chain.  It will, no doubt demand flawless planning and synchronized execution.

This current grounding incident has the potential to add further delays to the longer-term operational ramp-up milestones, and we trust that the Boeing supply chain team will collectively rally to achieve its required milestones later this year and in 2014.  There is much work to be done, cultural, organizational, technical and physical in scope.

We again extend our best wishes.

Bob Ferrari