Boeing Starliner Fail and 737 Max Halt Caused by 1997 Shift From Engineering Focus

Boeing just had another failure with the Starliner crew capsule and the rocket launching it. They failed to have a correct orbital burn and the mission failed. Boeing has had huge problems with the 737 Max. These problems can all trace back about 22 years to when Boeing abandoned 80 years of engineering culture to stock price focused management.

At the Atlantic Jerry Useem has an article describing how Boeing shifted away from 80 years of engineering culture and focus. One of the most successful engineering cultures of all time gave way to McDonnell’s stock price focus mind-set.

Finance executives quadrupled McDonnell’s stock price at the cost of future competitiveness. They merged into Boeing and the executives infected Boeing’s culture.

If Boeing still had an engineering focused culture then the aircraft business would be better. Boeing would still be losing to SpaceX in launch systems.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained that the Starliner mission to the ISS had a timing system error. The orbital insertion burn did not happen at the right time.

Boeing and ULA made the Starliner and it is to eventually get certified for manned missions to the Space Station.

The Boeing Starliner will now be delayed and SpaceX Crew Dragon will have the first US built manned mission in the post-Shuttle era.

United Airlines will remove the Boeing 737 Max from its flight schedule until June. Southwest and American Airlines have pulled the Boeing 737 Max until April.

Boeing has stored the over 400 737 Max jets that it has built in 2019.

21 thoughts on “Boeing Starliner Fail and 737 Max Halt Caused by 1997 Shift From Engineering Focus”

  1. No, the problem stems from the US government encouraging aircraft manufacturers to merge. We should be undoing this. It was a bad idea that can only result in competitive collapse, high prices, and incompetence. This all started with the Advanced Tactical Fighter program.
    We need to break up these companies. And we need to stop making winner takes all military contracts. If more than one company meets all the criteria for some program…they should both get the contract…and the number they get to sell should be contingent on how many, what cost and how fast they can make them. You make them faster and ready for use…you get to keep them coming.
    Sometimes only one manufacturer meets the requirements, and the others fail. Even then, at their cost, they should be given the opportunity to try again.
    And when the government makes requirements for some program, they need that to be realistic, prioritize cost of maintenance and operation, and stop tweaking the requirements after the challenge is given.

  2. Let’s face facts.Smart people will never fly on the 737 Max again. Three solutions: 1. Convert them to freighters. 2. Remove the fat engines, and replace them with smaller units that will restore the center of gravity to a safe location. 3. Fly them out to Arizona and chop them up with that big, giant gillotine.

  3. The biggest, most successful US engineering tech-based companies <GE, Boeing etc.> have been taken over by glamorous, charismatic, telegenic, pie-charting people who totally disdain hard/non-dramatic fact-based repeatable science & have abandoned decades of harsh engineering scholarship for a stock-price driven, high profile, <cult-following > glitzy corporate style.
     Yet in all of this climb of tech valuation <self-driving cars on flooded/potholed/ice-snowy highways & washed out bridges, wiped out clean drinking water & compromised sanitation assets etc.>, to dizzying heights, we have no way of measuring environmental risks and are failing to harden critical infrastructure against tsunami, earthquakes, floods, typhoons, droughts & hurricanes. Here, we make no allusions to us stopping Climate extremes in its tracks, however, when wealthy Japan loses 250,000 valuable human souls then poorer Indonesia, then Philippines are struck, the human misery & property devastation simply reverse forward economic momentum. We have giddy imposition of uncontained tariffs, without a calibrated recognition of potential mutual damage and how to reverse a charge to the economic precipice, as the entire global community is less competitive & more impoverished! 

  4. Wasn’t the 737 Max issue the FAA being corruptly captured by the industry they (with the connivance of cynical politicians pushing “full retard deregulation”) were supposed to be regulating?
    That’s a bigger problem than just Boeing.

  5. Either your focus is making good things or you make cheap things poorly and never really get good at anything.

    If you make a cheap knife and people figure that out they stop buying. Then you have to make something else but the same happens over and over.

  6. McD stealthly taking over Boeing was such a mess. It lead to a lot of the problems with the 777 and 787 because they tried to outsource away core competancies. There’s a reason aerospace manufacturers consolidated into vertically integrated manufacturing behemoths. While I understand Boeing’s issues with their existing union at their manufacturing plants, trying to essentially strike-break them by building new plants in union-less areas is a unpleasant move.

  7. A) ULA has nothing to do with Starliner. ULA builds the Atlas and Centaur.
    B) No decision has been made on if, or any, impact to the Starliner schedule to send a manned version to the ISS.

  8. When a company loses it soul it usually dies. Just think of what happen to Apple when it got rid of Jobs.

    Boeing can go back to being an engineering but they will have to put an engineer in charge.

  9. There was a woman named Debbie Hopkins, who thought you didn’t need engineers to build airplanes–so the scuttlebutt goes

    It doesn’t have to just be Boeing. Bob Lutz’s book CAR GUYS VS BEAN COUNTERS shows that suits can ruin anything.

  10. “Hey, I think this clock might be out of sy–”

    “Time is a construct. If it weren’t, then wizards couldn’t arrive exactly when they mean to. Launch the dang rocket.”

    Solution: astronauts must become wizards so that if they find themselves in the wrong orbit, they can reach their destination. Eventually. Whenever they mean to.

    So, yes, perhaps not enough competition for too long. Stagnation in the department where things actually MATTER isn’t a plus. Just because the big shiny stick with the fireworks inside flies up into the sky doesn’t necessarily mean it works properly.

  11. No competition might be true with respect to Boeing’s space projects, but is clearly not true with respect to airliners.

  12. Have to disagree with you that this sort of analysis does no one any good. You are correct that the current hypothesis is a guess but it is an educated guess. It is important to analyse problems and find their root cause so you do not repeat the mistakes of the past in the future. As for your conjecture that the real problem is a lack of competition and too much easy government money maybe you are right however isn’t that the same kind of conjecture you were complaining about earlier in your post he he. Anyway, it is clear that there is something wrong in Boeing as to what that is and what caused it is up for debate.

    My opinion: I don;t know if the stock price mgmt strategy thing is the reason Boeing is having problems but the idea appeals to me. I hate the idea of managing a company based on what you think things will do to a stock price rather than just focusing on doing your job better than anyone else…but that does not mean I am right 😉

  13. The Atlantic article is 100% correct. The problem started with Philip Condit, where he replaced Boeing managers with MD managers as a result of the merger.

  14. This whole story is a counterfactual. Who knows what would have happened without the merger? It’s the, “if only” daydreaming kind of wishful thinking stuff that does nobody any good. The question is, “what now?” How does BA right the ship? I’ve heard that BA suffers from generous government contracts and a lack of competition and accountability. In essence, BA feels like there’s not really anyone else who can do their job, so just do the minimum not to loose and overcharge for it. This could be wrong, but seems to be reality in action.

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