This week’s featured link:
The Long-Forgotten Flight That Sent Boeing Off Course – The Atlantic
Don’t worry, this isn’t a 10,000 word traditional Atlantic article. It’s a relatively short piece highlighting how Boeing’s merger with McDonnell Douglas led to a finance-first instead of engineering-first culture. And as the author says, that’s why Boeing is in this mess today.
Two for the road:
Qantas rejects Airbus and Boeing offers for non-stop New York jets – The Sydney Morning Herald
Qantas: Hey Boebus, we want a very niche airplane to fly routes nobody else needs.
Boebus: Ok, we’ll work on it. But it’s gonna cost you.
Qantas: No thanks, too expensive, go “sharpen your pencils”
Airline Water Study 2019 – DietDetective.com and the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center
A reader sent this to me asking for my take, and I just can’t bring myself to care. I get it. There is nasty stuff in the water. But there are millions of cups of coffee served on airlines and millions of hand-washings in airline lavs. How many people get sick? Not a lot, at least not enough to get me worried. I’m not gonna drink cold water from the tap, but I’m going to just assume that drinking hot tea warms up the water enough to kill bad things. And I’ll keep washing my hands. Do I want this stuff cleaned up? Sure. But I’m not overly worried until I see proof it’s causing mass sickness.
I get the fear of the water they use for coffee and tea, or even ice. But a recent video from a USN/USAF reserve pilot and Miami based AA 737 FO explained that the water system has to get tested and treated regularly so that it’s safe for consumption. Also the random fear of the ice that’s served is nonsense because it comes from the airline catering facility, airplanes don’t have ice makers on them. Here’s a link to his video.
Agreed that the water issue is (mostly) overblown.
Even if/when there are a few nasties in the water on the planes, the odds of getting sick from germs left on the hard surfaces (or from germs floating in the air) are far greater. I’m no doctor, but it’s safe to say that people whose immune systems are very vulnerable probably should not be in planes or other crowded public places, and for everyone else, eh, unless airlines are incredibly negligent about cleaning I’d say it’s not a big deal and a non-story.
Also, how often do restaurants really check/clean/sanitize their ice/soda/beer systems? Surely there is some nasty stuff lurking in the spouts of the soda fountain dispensers and beer taps when they aren’t cleaned as regularly as they should be.
Bottom line is that if you are traveling in a first world country, tainted airplane water should be very low on the list of things to worry about.
The Atlantic article about Boeing isn’t anything that hasn’t been said before but it is one of the few articles that brings up the HQ move to Chicago. At the time I remember thinking it was quite odd. Before Microsoft or Amazon or Starbucks or grunge people thought Boeing/Seattle. History is rife with businesses that failed when the C-suite got too far removed from the production. Even the MBA’s that didn’t come up from the ranks of the engineers should’ve learned that in grad school. That entire HQ move seemed like an exercise in vanity, seeking out a more cosmopolitan city. Chicago is a great city but by no means is it a hub of aviation.
If an airplane were a restaurant with ratings like this they’d be shutdown. Why aren’t planes treated the same?
If a restaurant could transport me to my desired destination at 500 mph I would overlook some issues with the water too.
“She’s built like a steakhouse, but she handles like a bistro!”-Zapp Brannigan
There is much about Boeing that had been overlooked in the article. The notion that the engineers could “run the place” is absurd on its face. One need only look at Boeing’s own history and the near bankruptcy of the firm in 1970 and 1971 due to over-investment in the 747-100. While it may have been the right thing to do at the time, Boeing laid off tens of thousands of employees and hung-on by a thread.
Likewise, when Douglas Aircraft sought a merger with McDonnell, it was because this proud aerospace company also was on the verge of financial ruin.
Much of this certainly played heavily into many of the decisions Boeing made. Moreover, at the time Boeing was evaluating the Max (against, I assume was a thought of a MOMA), they also were struggling with production issues related to the 787 Dreamliner and developing a successor to the highly successful 777 series jetliners. Amid all of this, none of which was mentioned in the article, something had to give.
One must also keep in mind that the move, I’m sure was part of an effort to buy some peace for Boeing executives. The IAM was, in some cases, picketing in front of Boeing’s CEO’s home. Plus, at the time, Chicago’s connections to the world were far better than Seattle’s. That slowly may be changing with Delta building a mini-hub in Seattle, but at the time, both Chicago and Dallas, which also was considered for Boeing’s headquarters, had far, far better air service.
Ultimately, in a technologically linked world, the location of the headquarters is less important than it once was. Moreover, if anyone things the struggles of Douglas and Boeing in the 1970s didn’t infect the companies cultures — I got news!
By the way — nice new look Cranky!
^^^ Exactly! So much more to consider in this story, especially the fact that, during that time period, it was becoming very obvious just how much of a threat Airbus was to Boeing’s dominance. That realization alone probably indicated that the company needed to be run more like a business than a machine shop. I’m not going to defend the competence of McDonnell Douglas management; I visited Long Beach several times in the early 90’s as a member of a management consulting firm that had an engagement with MD; what an inefficient mess. I also won’t defend the move of the HQ to Chicago; I think there’s a lot of validity to others’ opinions about that topic. However, the framing of this article is so simplistic in order to push one of The Atlantic’s primary narratives; that is, there wouldn’t have been any problems if the union was running the company.
all of that is true but most people would have been happy if Boeing could have found a middle place instead of simply swinging completely to the side of pleasing Wall Street to the exclusion of product.
Of course no one is going to admit that they knew things would implode wiht the MAX but it represented a substantial difference in the way Boeing had engineered and sold its planes. We don’t have enough time or space to go into that here but Boeing’s woes are very much tied to the MAX and not the whole product line. Given that Boeing is now seriously considering dumping the 737 and replacing it with an all-new aircraft while potentially launching reworked versions of the 777 and 767, Boeing is simply not the company that could engineer multiple new aircraft per decade. The 787 might well be nearly 20 years old before the next new from the ground up Boeing aircraft enters service.
Reworking old aircraft might be the answer but you have to do it right. If leaving Chicago, rehashing aircraft like McDonnell-Douglas did, and only being spurred to change when you have two crashes and the doubts of the world about your products, then Boeing’s culture has moved too far from where it was once the pride of the world.
There’s a great You Tube video from Southwest Airlines dates 6 years ago showing how they sanitize their water tanks with ozone. I’ve always figured the heat from coffee maker and the change of acidity of the coffee grounds took care of the nasty stuff. https://youtu.be/_VgVyzADL1s
Note to Joyce and Qantas: just because there was a lot of press coverage of the two “science” flights doesn’t mean all of humanity is looking to spend 18+ hours crammed into one of your sardine cans (“economy”). I will gladly fly long hauls in J if I can get them at an affordable-to-me price in dollars or miles, but I will fly a series of shorter flights if coach were the only option.
Also Qantas, to pilots: “We need to save 30% on staff costs to make this work”.
Somehow this looks like management has been hyping this up as a PR stunt, with no real chance of such long flights being economic.
There are times when I wonder how much good it is to criticize people and companies for what they did in the past. All any of us can do is the best we can, given the information available to us at the time. It’s not unlike football fans second-guessing every play call after the fact. We’re all human. Even the smartest of us don’t make the best choices 100% of the time. It’s easy to know what we should have done after the fact. As Howard Cosell used to say (he’s the first person I heard use this phrase) “Hindsight is always 20/20.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes. We certainly should. But we also can’t forget to factor in the current circumstances along with the lessons we’ve learned.
@Ghost and Gareth
I presume you are referencing Boeing in your “don’t criticize the past” statements
If so, the MAX crisis is not over. It will take years to see the impact of the MAX grounding on Boeing, airlines that operate the MAX, and the commercial aircraft market.
Second, Boeing is a publicly traded company. As such, its stockholders require that Boeing address the errors that have and will affect BA stockholders.
Third, Boeing is the largest industrial export company in the U.S. When you step into a roll that large, you are open for criticism of your actions – from lawmakers, customers, and business analysts.
And, finally, there are well-established principles of business that apply to Boeing just as it does to any other company. Boeing operated contrary to a number of those principles and the public, its customers, and stockholders are paying the price for it.
We aren’t talking about a kid stealing a pack of candy only to have paid for it and being forgiven.
We are talking about a major publicly traded company that is part of a commercial duopoly that impacts billions of people and involves tens of billions of dollars. Analyzing and making appropriate criticism as part of the learning what needs to be corrected and not repeating it at Boeing or elsewhere is part of life and business.
It’s pointless to criticize companies (or even people) for what they did in the past. These things happened years ago. However, I do agree that the water issue is rather overblown