Analysis: Boeing 787 output, review threatened if engineers strike

Wed Jan 16, 2013 5:49pm EST
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By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An escalating series of mishaps on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner has dealt engineers pushing for a new contract a strong card to play at the negotiating table.

The engineers are considered by aviation experts to be crucial to a safety review of the 787 that the Federal Aviation Administration launched last week after a fire, fuel leaks and other failures sparked widespread fears about the new jet.

The safety concerns threatened to turn into a full-blown crisis for Boeing on Wednesday when Japan's two leading airlines grounded their 24 Dreamliner passenger jets when one of the aircraft made an emergency landing after instruments indicated a battery error and smoke. [ID:nL1E9CGFCI] The Japanese aircraft account for nearly half the 50 Dreamliners now flying.

On Wednesday, the union made a "best and final" offer to Boeing, proposing to incorporate areas where the two sides had already agreed into the expired contract and extend it for four more years.

This would end "protracted and increasingly contentious negotiations that appear headed for a strike," the union said and allow Boeing and its workers "to focus on reaffirming confidence and proving the 787 is the reliable and safe product employees know it to be."

Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the offer.

Experts said a walkout by engineers would impede both the safety review and Boeing's ambitious effort to double production of the 787 this year because key people with knowledge of the aircraft and the clearance to certify that production lines are meeting FAA requirements would be taken away.

"The engineers have to be involved," said R. John Hansman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Nobody at the FAA knows this airplane as well as the engineers who were involved in the design and testing."   Continued...

Passengers walk away from All Nippon Airways' (ANA) Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner plane which made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport, western Japan, as seen in this photo taken by a passenger and distributed by Japan's Kyodo January 16, 2013. REUTERS/Kyodo