2019 Boeing Board remedial action- closer to the Engineers
HDQ Move to DC not towards the technical decision-makers
No insight into the rub between the Boeing and FAA certification teams
Recent big Boeing news (see below) is that the former Seattle-based company is now becoming a former Chicago-headquartered organization. Some of the commentary points to a “perceived need” to be closer to its “customers, stakeholders, government officials and lawmakers in the nation’s capital.” Whether or not that was a valid strategic decision, distancing distance from the Boeing engineers and the FAA direct certification staffs, both in the Seattle area, runs contrary to the Board’s self-analysis, three years ago. The proximity to the FAA headquarters will not reduce the technical problems associated with certification of the models in the safety reviews
Way back in 2019, after it finally saw the probable cause for the two horrendous Max 8 crashes, the Boeing Board commissioned a Special Airplane Design And Process Committee Review to make recommendations. Although this oversight and fiduciary function had a dearth of engineering talent (a vacuum eventually addressed), the recommendations are still relevant and yet fully implemented:
“Boeing Co needs to reorganize its engineering reporting lines company-wide and ensure higher ranking officials, including its CEO, get faster feedback about potential safety concerns from lower levels of the company, according to an internal review at the U.S. planemaker following two recent fatal crashes.
The initial recommendations, presented to Boeing’s board of directors over the weekend, also include potentially creating a new permanent committee to review Boeing’s aircraft design and development, company officials told Reuters.
The new initiatives come from a special board panel set up to review how Boeing develops and builds aircraft after the two crashes. They are intended to boost the transparency of engineering decisions and accelerate efforts to share safety information as widely and swiftly as possible across Boeing’s global businesses and factories.
The committee’s recommendations are the first structural shifts as part of the company’s response to the ongoing crisis over the grounding of its 737 MAX after deadly accidents killed 346 people in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The changes will be rolled out over the next couple of months, pending further review and modifications, he said.
Changes within the company could also be informed by the outcome of crash investigations into both accidents, according to a Boeing spokesman.
Muilenburg now receives granular weekly reports of potential safety issues discussed at meetings of rank-and-file engineers – something that did not happen in the past. Those engineers, numbering in the thousands, will report to chief engineers as opposed to being allocated to separate programs – a change designed to help them reach senior Boeing officials more effectively, though their specific jobs will not change.
Moving these executives almost 3,000 miles and 3 time zones away will reduce their ability to receive real time action items, to review the engineering process or to have some insights into the Boeing-FAA interface!!!
An astute observer of the disfunction between the regulator and the regulated would point to the Des Moines, WA staff not the executives at 800 Independence Ave. SW. The reports of inadequate data submission for justification of the B-787 flight reauthorization likely come from the local ACO, not the AIR policy setters. The SEC rules require that Boeing must speak in obtuse terms, but the following quotes do not suggest that the problem and/or its source are completely grasped:
“Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun highlighted the submission in the company’s April 27 earnings call, calling it a “very important step” and saying it was preparing the first 787s for delivery, but stopped short of providing a date.
People briefed on the matter say the submission was made shortly before the call.
A Boeing spokesperson said the company continues to have a transparent dialog and work closely with the FAA on the remaining steps.
An FAA spokesman declined to elaborate, saying only, “Safety drives the pace of our reviews.”
For several years, after Congressional hearings excoriating FAA management from the local level to headquarters, the field has had great latitude in making decisions based in their own policies. The reorganization of AIR and AVS has added to this disonance between the policy makers and those with the responsibility of implementing them. New policies set by the folks in Washington have stressed career employees who have applied one set of rubrics for years and decades; now need new analytical skills to be successful in their jobs. . If those variables have not destroyed any chain of command, the moving chairs in the aviation safety organization have debilitated its effectiveness.
Boeing’s focus should be on the locus of their problems, not the Big White Block in DC.
May 5, 2022,
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing is moving its corporate headquarters from Chicago to the Washington, D.C., area, the company announced Thursday.
In a statement, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said the move to the company’s existing government relations campus in Arlington, Virginia, “makes strategic sense … given its proximity to our customers and stakeholders.”
The shift to the D.C. area moves Boeing’s top leadership close to key government officials and lawmakers in the nation’s capital.
Arlington is the home of Boeing’s major customer on the defense side: the Pentagon.
And following the tightening of government safety oversight after the MAX crashes, the commercial airplanes division increasingly must work closely with Federal Aviation Administration leadership in D.C. and with lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate.
Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia, of Aerodynamic Advisory, said the FAA would have been more impressed by a return to Seattle, signaling a focus on fixing the huge challenges Boeing faces in its major business of making commercial airplanes.
“Boeing’s problem is not with government relations,” he said. “I don’t see doubling down the emphasis on D.C. lobbying as a breakthrough moment. It looks like a recipe for more of the same.”
“Boeing’s pressing need is to restore technical excellence in its most important and neglected business unit, commercial airplanes,” Aboulafia added. “A move back to Seattle would have sent an incredibly powerful message. This is a missed opportunity.”
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chair of the House Committee on Transportation, agreed, calling the headquarters move to Arlington “another step in the wrong direction.”
“Boeing’s problem isn’t a lack of access to government, but rather its ongoing production problems and the failures of management and the board that led to the fatal crashes of the 737 MAX,” DeFazio said in a statement. “Boeing should focus on making safe airplanes — not lobbying federal regulators and Congress.”
A former senior Boeing executive, who asked for anonymity to maintain relations with those inside the company, questioned the timing of the move.
“Now is the time when the company ought to be thinking of getting back to its roots,” the executive said. “Making an announcement now that has nothing to do with running the company or fixing its problems is puzzling.”
Adding engineers in D.C.
Boeing said that in addition to setting up its global headquarters in Arlington, it also “plans to develop a research & technology hub in the area to harness and attract engineering and technical capabilities.”
That hub will work on “innovations in the areas of cyber security, autonomous operations, quantum sciences and software and systems engineering,” Boeing said.
“The future of Boeing is digital,” said Greg Hyslop, Boeing executive vice president and chief engineer, who added that the company is banking on digital innovation to fuel the new, cutting-edge capabilities.
“This new hub in Northern Virginia will follow the successful implementation of this technology strategy in other regions,” he said.
Ray Goforth, executive director of Boeing’s white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said this continues the company strategy of geographically dispersing its engineering talent.
In addition to the Puget Sound region, Boeing now has engineering hubs in North Charleston, South Carolina; St. Louis; Seal Beach, California; as well as India. Its engineering centers in Moscow and Kyiv are currently closed due to the war in Ukraine.
With aviation beginning to recover from the pandemic downturn, Boeing has been aggressively hiring. Union data shows the company added 446 local SPEEA engineers since the middle of last year.
While Goforth acknowledges that there is a lot of engineering and technical talent in Virginia, close to the Pentagon, he said Boeing’s strategy of separating engineers from where the products they design are manufactured hasn’t worked out well.
“The engineers lose the interactions with those who face the day-to-day problems,” he said. “Time has shown, you lose some fidelity there.”