Airplane manufacturers may be looking forward to continued growth, but they’re also facing unprecedented challenges within the industry today, and pressure to meet new demands, rapid delivery times, and budget constraints can sometimes have an impact on quality.
On the bright side, despite some major setbacks over the past decade, commercial airlines are not faring as badly as you might think. In a recent report, The Brookings Institution found that over the last decade U.S. international passengers increased 117 percent, while domestic passengers increased 53 percent.
Most major airlines predict an uptick in air travel for 2013 due to a slew of factors, including rapid growth in emerging global economies like the Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and developing Asia-Pacific regions, which will result in a surge of new and bigger cities, more airports, and more commercial and business air travel. This and increased demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft, a growing world population, and the aging condition of fleets, should keep orders flooding in.
Industry experts estimate that as many as 33,000 new aircraft will be delivered to market over the next 20 years. Airbus predicts a greater demand for big passenger aircraft (above 100 seats). It believes that by 2030 it will have double its global passenger fleet from today’s 15,000 aircraft to 31,500.
But rapid growth and change carry inherent risk in terms of product quality.
Case in point: the Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
We haven’t yet discovered the root cause of the Dreamliner’s woes. But after the jet was grounded earlier this week, investigators are clearly focusing on the aircraft electrical system and in particular its lithium-ion batteries, which Boeing used instead of traditional hydraulic controls. Battery-based systems are lighter and therefore more fuel-efficient.
The NTSA and the FAA are also looking closely at the Dreamliner’s entire auxiliary power unit, which could prove quite a task, because while each Dreamliner was assembled at Boeing’s plant in Everett, Washington, more than 70 percent of the jets’ individual components were outsourced to some 900 subcontractors all over the world, according to a report by Forbes.
Boeing may have reduced the complexity and cost of manufacturing the Dreamliner by outsourcing construction of its systems, but this in turn has led to difficulties in tracking down individual suppliers, parts, and experts across the globe.
As the complexity of modern aircraft increases and airplane manufacturers struggle to keep up with rapid delivery times, they will have to work harder to close the loop on quality, better accounting for and managing aircraft systems and components from design to manufacture to testing and throughout the supply chain.
Boeing could be set to lose a bundle as a result of grounded planes and delayed orders if the investigation drags on indefinitely.
Boeing’s troubles are a reflection of widespread issues and challenges facing the aerospace industry across the board. How do you think we can ensure safer planes?