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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fly the friendly skies -- if you dare

Sentences like this really should stop every American in his or her tracks:

The safety board is looking at whether the F.A.A. fully understood any potential issues with the volatile new batteries before it approved their use under special conditions.

The FAA is approving aircraft design before it "fully understands" the safety "issues"? It just trusts Boeing? Scary.

Comments (15)

But God forbid you don't competely turn off your iPod when landing. That could cause real damage.

Lithium is an explosive. Sixty-some-pound lithium batteries sound like disaster waiting to happen. And funny thing, Boeing got the 787 approved just before new standards for testing took effect. Thank goodness somebody didn't die.

I believe the requirement to turn off electronics during takeoff and landing is so that the passenger is paying attention at these critical times.

I've seen passengers ignore the announcement to turn of their gadgets, completely oblivious; they don't fasten their seatbelt; they don't put away their stuff or clear the area around their feet; and they don't pay attention.

You just know you don't want to be sitting next to this kind of bozo should anything go wrong at these critical moments.

In any case, many do pay attention to the announcements, but may forget to turn off their electronics. I'm pretty confident that there isn't any interference to the plane's equipment. Even I have discovered upon landing that some gadget was still on in my jacket in the overhead bin or in my backpack.

As for those battery packs...ugh! You'd think there was some sort of sensor monitoring these at all times!

And be sure to turn in your nail clippers, toothpaste tubes and shampoo containers over 3 ounces, and absolutely NO unauthorized water bottles!

Pilots tell stories of hearing somebody's cell phone go off, immediately followed by frightening problems with the avionics. Of course, that was back when pilots and passengers weren't separated by heavily bolted steel doors.


Actually, Boeing has bet the company on this plane, and if it can't figure out this battery thing, the economic sky over Washington State will indeed be falling.

"and absolutely NO unauthorized water bottles!"

Down under is very much more chill.

Grab your Vodka Tonic at the airport bar to go. As long as you have a lid, you can board with it. BYOB.

I work with a whole crew of engineers who dabble in RC vehicles and robots in what spare time they have, and several told me interesting stories about those lithium-polymer batteries. Even the small ones can be extremely dangerous (check out YouTube for videos of RC batteries and how rapidly they burst into flame when punctured), and quite a few toy companies have been really quiet about recalls for fear of exploding batteries. And these are just small batteries for toys: the problem is that lithium-polymer offers a significant increase in power over most other battery solutions, so the increased risk is justified in most circumstances. Even so, if you're working with lithium-polymer batteries, make sure to wear eye protection and gloves.

As for the Boeing situation? Honestly, I'm not surprised. Boeing has had a reputation for outsourcing damn near everything since the Phil Condit days, and it's become notorious for assuming that it can outsource risk and responsibility. Talk to any group of aeronautics engineers, and they'll have stories of friends and cohorts who were hired by Boeing at Halloween, moved to Seattle by Thanksgiving, and laid off three days before Christmas, all allegedly for tax reasons. (This happened to a high school buddy at the same time I was moving from Portland: not only was he out of a job, but he then was expected to pay back his whole move package since he was no longer a Boeing employee.) When you lay off all of the people who know what the hell they're doing and replace them with fresh graduates and H1-Bs willing to work for a fraction of the pay, well, the chickens come home to roost.

No one ever seems to read my New Yorker recommendations, but here I go again. This is a single-page piece by Financial Page columnist James Surowiecki that simply and neatly explains how Boeing's merger with McDonnell Douglas led to a new bean-counter-driven business model involving outsourcing the design, engineering and manufacturing of the Dreamliner to 50 "strategic partners," causing billions of dollars in cost overruns, missed deadlines, and a final product still not meeting safety standards.

"The Dreamliner was supposed to become famous for its revolutionary design. Instead, it’s become an object lesson in how not to build an airplane."


Well *I* read that, Sally. I immediately thought of that article when I saw this post. I've been with a few companies now where the engineering spirit has been drowned-out by the bean counters. We're watching it in real-time with Apple right now. For all our talk of innovation in this country, it really comes down to the bottom-line. And, in this case, stupid pride.

Boeing puts the company on the line every time it comes out with a new commercial airplane. I actually have more confidence in Boeing getting to the heart of the matter than the NTSB pinheads lurking below street level at L'Enfant Plaza, though NTSB and FAA will take all the credit once it gets resolved.

The FAA is approving aircraft design before it "fully understands" the safety "issues"? It just trusts Boeing? Scary.

If one believes Boeing's corporate mission statement and core competency consists of making defective airliners, and that Uncle Sugar's bureacracy is the only thing out there to save us.

Bean wrote: "I immediately thought of that article when I saw this post. I've been with a few companies now where the engineering spirit has been drowned-out by the bean counters.

Too true, I can think of three local business - two of them Icons-in-their-own-eyes - who bragged of eliminating their inhouse IT people and taking development to companies in India which had no history with the companies or knowledge of the business.

These decisions driven by upper management steeped in yeah-many MBA degrees and not much else. MBA programs seem to be focusing on bean-counting and skimping on ethics and any sort of classes re. humane or sensible management of employees. When there's any sort of question or push-back regarding a "bean-counting" decision, these folks fall back on punitive top-down management and dig in to preserve their power base at all costs.

This is the sort of barnacle-laden management that people used to shake their heads about when it was governing US Steel and the automobile industry but now it is increasingly seen by those in control as admirable.

Although it's initially more expensive, more of us need to start saying, "NO" to companies that operate this way. I'm not going to reward them by buying their stuff or supporting their soul-destroying agendas all in the service of higher profits and quicker, cheaper products at any cost.

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