Saturday, October 12, 2019
The Flagship of the Pacific Northwest Still Listing
No, not Amazon. Not Microsoft. Long before either of them became household names there was another, Boeing.
Boeing a legendary maker of truly leading edge airplanes - passenger liners, bombers, fighters. Boeing. The company that built a 13-million cu. metre factory, the world's largest, in Everett, Washington. And from that 100 acre building, one of the world's most skilled workforces turned out amazing airplanes from the B-17 Flying Fortress, to the 707 jetliner and the one time Queen of the skies, the 747 "jumbo jet."
In its glory decades, Boeing was an engineers' company. They not only designed the airplanes, they ran the company and it prospered. And then new management muscled in. Pencil pushers, balance sheet types. They set out to remake what those aeronautical engineers had built. One week before the 9/11 attacks, Boeing's head office moved to Chicago. Illinois, FFS! Not only did the nature of Boeing management changed but it moved halfway across the country from its plant and it turned a little more adversarial to its workforce.
Then these pinheads decided they could shave a bit of money from their labour costs by shifting part of their operations to the low-wage south, South Carolina to be exact.
The world noticed. Aviation Week ran a piece about how some of Boeing's historic customers began stipulating that they planes they ordered were to be built in Everett.
Meanwhile the quest for ever greater profit margins increased. Then along came the 737 Max and everything blew up. Boeing had stopped building airplanes as safe as they could make them. Safety was now an 'a la carte' business. Boeing would build airplanes as safe as the customer could afford. Some airframes were shipped out with some of the safety systems but not all.
Then two went down, both 737 Max, killing all passengers and crew as they suddenly nose-dived into the ground. In the span of mere days all 737 Max jetliners were parked. That was March, 2019. The pencil pushers in the boardroom assured the shareholders that a simple fix would make everything right. A month, two - no problem.
Only there was no quick fix. As aviation safety regulators decided not to screw up again, additional flaws were found. It wasn't just a software fault. The cost cutters had done some serious damage.
Boeing's latest estimate is that the 737 Max fleet will be allowed to take to the air again in February but, of course, they've been wrong before. Even if the type is cleared to return to service it will have to overcome a thoroughly sullied reputation with airlines and the traveling public alike. Then there's Boeing's customers who have lost a full year of revenue from those airplanes.
Boeing shareholders clamored for a shake-up. They wanted the chairmanship and the CEO functions severed. The board refused - until today. Dennis Muilenburg will remain CEO and president while the financial types will be left with a private equity type as non-executive Chairman of the Board.
This might just restore a bit of autonomy to the aeronautical engineering cadre who built the company and its once-dominant line of aircraft. Will it be enough to right Boeing's keel? Hard to say.