back to article Boeing CEO says no more 'moonshots' after 787 Dreamliner ordeal

After weathering a decade of delays, cost overruns, and technical difficulties with its latest high-tech aircraft, Boeing CEO James McNerney says the company isn't planning any more ambitious gambles like the 787 Dreamliner, but will instead focus on cutting costs and increasing production. According to a report by the Seattle …


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  1. Paul McClure


    Apple had the same issue. Bleeding edge wows but sometimes it's not engineered correctly on the first go. The difference between Apple and Boeing is that Boeing has only one competitor.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Re: Batteries

      I would say that the main difference is that if an Apple product fails, hardly no-one will be injured (I know there are some exceptions, burned buttocks and people blindly following their map app, but those are just that, exceptions).

      On the other hand, is a Boeing product fails while in use, the consequences may be dire...

    2. Stuart Van Onselen

      Re: Batteries

      It seems to me that too many people (marketers?) think that "bleeding edge" means "We're one step ahead of leading edge" when it actually means "We tried to be too clever and cut ourselves."

      You most definitely don't try to sell "bleeding edge" to your customers. You refine it to mere "leading edge" while it's still in your own laboratory/engineering works.

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

      "... a power plant based on lithium-ion batteries..."

      I think I understand what you're trying say. But, as written, it's somewhere between simply wrong and utter nonsense.

  2. Michael Habel Silver badge

    So what happens after the 797? Will Boeing then make the 808?

    1. Don Jefe

      Roland beat (Ha!) them to it.

      1. dan1980

        I think they'd certainly be hoping for an 808 as the Dreamliner appears to be the exact opposite - expensive and unpopular!

        (Side note - have you tried the Volca line? The 'Beats' model is nowhere near as full as the 808 but those things are crazy-fun for the price.)

        1. Don Jefe

          I haven't got to play with any of that stuff in a long time. It's unfortunate, but until the slackasses in the back get the slomo generator up and running I have to make hard decisions about what I get to do for fun :)

          1. dan1980

            I was going to say that they're great to jam on whenever you have some spare time but inevitably, 'some spare time' turns into a variation of "Why are you still in your pyjamas!!!?? We're supposed to be at your mother's place in 15 minutes and you haven't even had a shower!!!"

            For some reason, "But check this out - doesn't that sound cool!?" never seems to work . . .

          2. Triggerfish


            Guys you may want to look at Rebirth by Propellerhead Software, it emulates a 303, 808 and 909 and its free now. Well worth a look.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          you mean the 787 is like Win8.1 ? Please no. Have to admit I was baffled by wing crack issues. Sailplane builders have been using advanced fibre materials for decades. The later ones are state of the art and limit of technology. Not heard of any sail plane builder pulling a sailplane because the wings cracked.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Dan

            'cause you haven't. They started doing it in the 1960s and the people like Gerhard Waibel and Ursula Hänle who designed the planes of those days were the exact same people who developed the manufacturing technologies (Ursula Hänle's book on fibreglass repairs was the standard on the subject for many years), and flew the planes themselves. Those people knew exactly what they were doing.

            By contrast, the Boeing engineers who did the 787 mostly had learned their business working with metal. You design differently for metal, and though you can read about it a dozen times in books, it's not the same as finding out in practice. So they made mistakes, which was only natural. I admire them for trying, and for getting a vast number of things right. Will be a pity if Boeing really stop trying.

            Side note: Of course the '60s sailplanes were made of fibreglass, not carbon fibre.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Dan

              "the Boeing engineers who did the 787"

              Much of what was traditionally Boeing territory on previous aircraft became subcontractor territory on the 787.

              "[Boeing] investing heavily in developing new technologies"

              The subcontractors did the pioneering.

              From the article:

              "The Dreamliner incorporates a number of groundbreaking new technologies, including a body composed mostly of lightweight composite materials, electrical flight systems in place of hydraulic ones, a power plant based on lithium-ion batteries, and even electronic dimmers for passenger windows in place of mechanical shutters"

              Body composed of lightweight composite materials: subcontractors.

              Electrical flight systems: subcontractors.

              Lithium ion batteries: subcontractors.

              Dimmers for passenger windows: subcontractors.

              Subcontractors were also encouraged to self-certify that their stuff was flight safe,

              More than ever, Boeing's role was frequently little more than that of a systems integration outfit (with a bit of brand management and final assembly thrown in too).

              Non-technical analysis, relevant to subbing in general not just 787:

     (adblock recommended)

              1. hugo tyson

                Re: @Dan

                Electrical flight systems (instead of hydraulic): Avro Vulcan, B.1 1956; B.2 1960.

          2. imanidiot Silver badge

            Re: @Dan

            Actually pulling a plane/glider hasn't happened, but there have most certainly been cracking issues in sailplanes. Most often it's limited to mounting of aileron or airbrake levers but there have been a few Circulars about checking wing roots because of cracking found.

    2. Acme Fixer

      Listen, sonny...

      I remember back when the 707 was new. But when they lengthened it they called it the 720b. There are a lot more numbers between 707 and 797 that can be used... and probably will be.

      1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

        Re: Listen, sonny...

        Actually (not wanting to sound pedantic, but it's Friday, I'm still at work and have had no beer), the Boeing 720 was a shortened 707 (by about 9ft), with shorter legs. The 720B was the turbofan variant of the 720.

        The first 720 was heavily used in the 70's by Led Zeppelin as a private jet. Very rock'n'roll.

    3. big_D Silver badge

      If they kept "investing" money in the moonshot principle, it would probably the be the 404...

    4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      0x 7A7

  3. Swarthy Silver badge
  4. JLV Silver badge

    anyone read Wikinomics?

    Had a huge pile of gushing in it about the 787, because it was a shared-design airplane where all the suppliers got to take a stab at the design, much more so than usual.

    Wonder what the authors have been thinking of the 787s teething glitches. Wonder if the collaboration model was in any way part of the issue.

    Flew on a modern 737 variant with WestJet recently. That's an old plane family, but the new variant has obviously been back-ported with a lot of its younger sibling's DNA. Including fuel efficiency. So what Boeing's saying makes a lot of sense.

    Ever in Seattle and need a rest from West Coast microbrews? Go checkout the factory (building current passenger jets) or the air museum (WW2/WW1/others). Pretty good tours.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: anyone read Wikinomics?

      One of the things Boeing does exceptionally well is turn out platforms that can evolve with the airline industry, both passenger and freight. It's really, really difficult to build any large physical system that has useful capacities for evolution in the business practices of your clients and not end up with a dangerously compromised design.

      I bring that up because what they're talking about with maximizing the value of their new build investment is how they've always operated. They're not doing anything new, as far as company strategy, it has just been so long since a really new plane appeared that people have forgotten :)

      The Dreamliner collaboration issue is one we've looked at very hard here at my place. We didn't make any parts for it, but we did make a lot of equipment and tooling our clients used to make parts for it. It was important for is to understand because we wanted to deliver to our clients with as little fuss as possible, here are my summarized conclusions.

      On the technical side the collaborative efforts of all involved were a huge win. No matter how great teams or work groups are, there are things that become unconsciously embedded in how they do things. I can look at done things others companies in my space have made and know who made them, just from the way things are done. It's kind of like handwriting and spelling. Given a large enough sample or great familiarity the same things are perpetually repeated, often withou the creator realizing it. Getting input, even indirectly, by looking at someone else's solution to an unrelated issue is extremely valuable. Often you'll discover far better ways to do something and you can incorporate that into your work. But you can't do that if you're never exposed to the work and input of others.

      On the financial side, collaboration didn't do so well. The embedded thinking I mentioned earlier usually has its roots in finances. Each group finds the best way to work with whatever financial philosophies are expressed within their organizations. Here at my place, for example, tooling and inspection equipment expenses are usually not questioned. The guys know what they need, just get it and get the job out. But I don't like buying equipment. Not so much because of the investment costs, but I preach 'simple machines are best for complicated work' very hard. Before I approve equipment spend somebody has to explain to me why the equipment we have won't work. Sometimes it really won't work and off we'll go to find something suitable. Sometimes it will work, the project team just needs to think about it some more. We are engineers, making do with what we've got and exceeding expectations is the job. So the yelling and sleepless nights are good for everybody.

      But other places have different philosophies and while they may all be equally valid technically they may not mesh with the financial philosophies of someone else involved. When that happens costs tend to skyrocket past what everybody wanted. Poor financial fits in one place trickle down to everybody else. It's a real bitch.

      The rub in all that is everyone is, rightfully, looking out for themselves so there's little real flexibility. But because everybody in a collaborative effort needs everybody else everybody ends up making changes to try and keep it all working. Unfortunately, no matter what you do overall costs are going to rise dramatically as everybody is rounding corners trying to help, but not so much they take a hit.

      Sooner or later somebody has to step in and whip it all into shape & just move forward and deal with problems when they arise later. If you don't the project, literally, will never fly. The flogging is difficult in the extreme so people try to avoid it. Which is where Boeing kept screwing the Dreamliner up. They were too timid to move forward becsuse they feared fallout. It's a valid fear, but fear of risk which prevents risk isn't acceptable. You've got to move and there's a fuckton of good failover design and luck and you'll find out quick if you missed. But you've got to take the chance or you end up screwing everything up.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: anyone read Wikinomics?

        The outsourcing on the 7E7 seems to have been a disaster both financially and technically

        Instead of the normal partnership model where BAe do the wings, Dassualt do the tail, etc they outsourced to outsourcers who outsourced to outscourcers.... until you literally had no idea which one man in a garage was building vital bits of your plane.

        Come the downturn Boeing lawyers were flying around the country desperately buying up sub-sub-contractors who had gone bust before delivering some subsystem.

        The other problem in aviation is the "when the document weighs more than the plane it is ready to fly" but Boeing subcontracted the design of the component to the maker bidding on it - for flexibility. Try writing an FAA FMEA for kit that you didn't design and have no idea how or why it was designed like that - assuming the maker is still in business and supplied you with any design documentation at all.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          overpriced, overbudget and designed by a committee of clueless people

          Meet the Eurofighter team, you'll realise why Lockheed Martin , Boeing and other plane manufacturers try to keep the project team together, not out source it to outsourcers

          1. Green Nigel 42

            Re: overpriced, overbudget and designed by a committee of clueless people

            The Eurofigher project is a paragon of lean & mean if you compare it to the Lockheed Martin cluster fucked F35! They will not likely to be awarded a prime contractorship by the Dod again!

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: anyone read Wikinomics?

        "I bring that up because what they're talking about with maximizing the value of their new build investment is how they've always operated. They're not doing anything new, as far as company strategy, it has just been so long since a really new plane appeared that people have forgotten :)"

        Exactly. Build a core design (probably with bunch of new tech) and milk it for decades afterward. Thumbs up for the observation.

        In 25-30 years his successor will start saying "It's about time we looked at moving the 787 on."

    2. Chemware

      Re: anyone read Wikinomics?

      ++1 on the factory and the air museum - the latter is a "Louvre for air geeks". The SR-71 hanging in mid-air in the main hall is just mind-blowing !

      1. Michael Habel Silver badge

        Re: anyone read Wikinomics?

        ++1 on the factory and the air museum - the latter is a "Louvre for air geeks". The SR-71 hanging in mid-air in the main hall is just mind-blowing !

        Wait what does the the Lockheed SR-71 have to do with Boeing? Surly this is like comparing Red Hat with Canonical the both do Linux, but are otherwise unrelated.

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: anyone read Wikinomics?

          I think it's pretty much always safe to toss an SR-71 reference into any sort of aircraft discussion. That's how I like to imagine all planes would look if I were in charge. A cool machine is rather the understatement :)

        2. Chris 244

          Re: SR-71 and Boeing

          The air museum is independent of Boeing and have lots of cool stuff from many different manufacturers. They don't have an (intact) SR-71, but rather an M-12. Er, the M-12. And a Darkstar prototype!

          And for you Brits there's a Harrier, in case you want to see a part of your own aviation history. (cough).

  5. Craig "Spuddleziz" Smith

    and not one single mention of the 747-8 family of aircraft, a lot of 787 tech was back ported for that to happen.

    Just sayin.

    Having flown on a 747-400 and a A380, I much prefer the American plane and look forward to flying in the newest variant as soon as I can.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. RPF

      You'll probably have to fly as freight, then....... 747-8 is also a disaster (that cannot fly within 50 miles of a thunderstorm). Total of 8 passenger variants sold; tells you who good it is.

      1. GavinC

        @RPF: I think your figures are a little off. There have been 51 orders for passenger versions, and 69 for freighters. Never heard anything about it not being able to fly "within 50 miles of a thunderstorm", although aircraft tend to avoid thunderstorms anyway.

  6. Herby Silver badge

    Boeing is not too bad at moonshots...

    Their first (or second) was the B29. The project was started after WW2 started, and they finished up with a plane only a couple of years later. In the day, the MOST expensive war time project (even more than the A-Bomb!). In 1940's money it was $3 billion. That today is much more than the cost of the 787. Of course, they didn't finance it themselves they has a nice partner willing to foot the bill. Still a massive undertaking.

    Goes to show, when sufficiently motivated, lots of things are possible.

    I don't know if the B17 counts as a "moonshot" or not. Some will debate this too.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Boeing is not too bad at moonshots...

      It's easy when somebody else is paying the bill no-questions-asked. You can do whatever you like because it really doesn't matter - the company will not get in trouble no matter what you spend.

      That's why Government projects always go over budget and are always late.

      Budgets only get proper control when the risk is on the company itself, and overspend reduces its bottom line profit rather than increasing it.

      So no, the B29 isn't comparable.

    2. Green Nigel 42

      Re: Boeing is not too bad at moonshots...

      At least the a B17 got to the Moon! ref WW2 Bomber found on Moon", as reported & photographed by Sunday Sport National newspaper in the 1980's!!!

      That papers headlines used to lighten & brighten my sundays trip to the Newsagent, never bought it thou

      (honest, might be worth somthing now if I had and kept it!)

      Its probably as truthfull as much of the garbage we are fed by the papers of today.

  7. bep

    From an end user's perspective

    It doesn't make a lot of difference to me. The current generation of passenger jets is pretty similar to the previous generation in that I get where I'm going at much the same time feeling just as lousy. A Mach 2 airliner that worked with reasonable economy would be a 'moonshot'. The current jets, not so much.

    1. Yag

      Re: From an end user's perspective

      A Concorde Mk2 would be indeed great - The first one is still a hell of a technical and political achievement. (French and English working together? I'ld get this cat herder job instead)

      Unfortunately, the Mk2 would be as attractive as the first one, which was not only shot by its fuel hungry reactors, but mostly by the annoying sonic boom that reduced the number of routes it was allowed to be used on.

      Also, any supersonic aircraft WILL be a fuel hog. Boeing studied a Mach 0.95 airliner a few years ago (instead of the standard Mach 0.8 or so of the standard ones), and this study concluded the fuel consumption would be too high to justify the extra speed.

      1. newro

        Re: From an end user's perspective

        I agree about Concorde.

        But would like to note that apparently the fuel consumption per passenger per Atlantic crossing wasn't that much worse than on a 747 of the same time period. People often quoted the consumption of the afterburners, but those were only used for two short periods on an Atlantic crossing. Also comparing consumption per hour doesn't add up either. The cruising hight resulted in less friction, also Concorde was a very small, cramped and light plane.

        Of course, compared to a modern plane, things have moved on, and we never seen what a modern Concorde would be like.

        Most of the extra operational cost seemed to be down to maintenance. Which again had to be spread over fewer passengers.

        1. ridley

          Re: From an end user's perspective

          I think you will find that one of the reasons that Concorde was such a fuel hog was because at supersonic speed the afterburners were on constantly.

          It is only recently that planes have had the ability to "supercruise" ie cruise at supersonic speeds without an afterburner.

          1. smartypants

            Concorde did not need afterburners to supercruise

            Whilst undoubtedly the use of afterburners contributed to the aircraft's poor fuel economy, Concorde didn't need afterburners to supercruise. It has spent more time at supercruise than all other supersonic aircraft combined*. It used afterburners briefly during takeoff, thence to accellerate through the sound barrier to M1.7 once it'd cleared land, after which point they were turned off and the aircraft continued to accelerate until it was time to descend.

            I was lucky enough to enjoy a round-trip in the old bird before it was retired to know how much better flying can be, but I don't expect ever to see cost-effective long distance M2+ supersonic journeys in my lifetime. A number of 'Supersonic Business Jets' are on the drawing board or in various stages of development, and these have a better chance of economic viability in a world where the super rich have the capital but not the desire to travel with hundreds of other people on scheduled flights.

            Concorde's promise of better travel for all was dashed by the profound increase in the cost of fuel, something which isn't ever going to go away. A 21st century Airliner carrying 200 or 300 people may well be more fuel efficient per passenger mile then Concorde was, but in comparison with subsonic travel, it's always going to munch through 2 or 3 times more fuel per passenger mile, and then there's the difficulty of flying over land without blowing people's windows out. Shame, really.


      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: From an end user's perspective

        "Also, any supersonic aircraft WILL be a fuel hog"

        The trick is to go much _much_ higher than conventional aircraft (or even concorde). You'll need to package your air because there won't be enough to catch outside.

        These would dip down to lower levels long enough to reboost.

        A skipper could get around the planet in a few hours and use less fuel/seat than conventional designs but there are minimum distance requirements to think about too.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: From an end user's perspective

          Going higher also means no weather

          The SR71 (at 80,000ft) navigated mostly by dead reckoning - with no weather you can decide to flay at x knots and arrive exactly y hours later.

          1. Chris 244

            Re: Dead reckoning

            Don't forget the stars. SR-71 was upgraded to celestial navigation, possible even during daylight hours at that elevation.

  8. MondoMan

    The 787 was a risk-averse management boondoggle

    Rather than being an Apollo-style moonshot, the 787 was more of a Soviet-style moonshot. The top management at the time (and still today) wanted to hurt the Seattle-area mechanics' (assemblers') union, which had a history of striking (only some of the time because management was trying to screw them over). Thus, they decided to move parts of the 787 work out of the Seattle area, to "partner" companies around the world. As a bonus (management thought), they required the partners to use their own money, not Boeing's, to design their part and build their tooling and factories. What could possibly go wrong with outsourcing big chunks of design and production?

    The 787 fiasco was the result. It turns out the partners were nowhere as good as Boeing's in-house Seattle-area staff at design, at assembly quality, and at identifying and solving the early-year assembly teething problems. In fact, IIRC, the Italian partner won't be allowed to work with Boeing again, and wings, the most critical and proprietary part of the design, won't be allowed to be designed by non-Boeing staff ever again.

    Vought, a US subcontractor, not only produced delayed structures, but incomplete ones, even after a few years of intensive on-site help from Boeing employees, so in the end Boeing had to buy all the Vought plants and employees doing the Boeing work and bring them in-house to get the work done right.

    The 787 was a fiasco because top Boeing management tried to play small ball on a moonshot project. They failed to realize that their scheme reduced shorter-term capital expenditures, but at the cost of vastly increased integration risk -- the risk that the parts wouldn't fit and function properly together once they were put together to form a plane in Seattle. In the end, initial capital savings were overwhelmed by the extra capital, labor, and airline compensation costs of not getting the project done right the first time.

    1. Acme Fixer

      Re: The 787 was a risk-averse management boondoggle

      I remember when the plans for McD-D aircraft were drawn in pencil on sheets of aluminum painted white. Nowadays, with AutoCAD and other CAD/CAM software, one would think that integration would not be a non-issue.

      1. MondoMan

        Re: The 787 was a risk-averse management boondoggle

        Just because all your software modules are in the same IDE doesn't mean module/module interfaces or the calls using them are suddenly perfect, although it does help with certain classes of errors.

    2. Schultz

      Re: The 787 was a risk-averse management boondoggle

      Good analysis. With the 787 they tried to change the process of design, development, production, and financing all at the same time. They should have expected that there would be snags which could hold up the whole process. Cut the pay for upper level managers to reflect their failure and raise the pay for all those technicians who made it fly in the end.

      1. Fatman Silver badge

        Re: The 787 was a risk-averse management boondoggle

        Cut the pay for upper level managers to reflect their failure and raise the pay for all those technicians who made it fly in the end.

        That will NEVER happen. Manglement NEVER MAKES MISTAKES!!!!


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