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OM in the News: Quality Control and the Boeing 787

September 9, 2017

American Airlines supervisors check the rudder and inspect the paint on a new 787. The tail has 13 different colors and is tricky to paint, so it gets close inspection

“Imagine you’re buying a $270 million car. You’d want to kick the tires pretty hard. That’s what airlines do with new airplanes,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 31, 2017). Delivering one widebody airplane is a big deal—each plane has a list price roughly the cost of a high-rise hotel.

Carriers like American Airlines station their own engineers at Boeing factories to watch their flying machines get built and check parts as they arrive. Then they send flight attendants, mechanics and pilots for what are called shakedown inspections.

“The rubber meets the road here,” says an American manager, as he begins checking a brand new Boeing 787. “It’s inspected and it’s inspected and it’s inspected. And yet we still find things.” American is taking delivery of 57 new planes this year.  Boeing does its own testing, but buyers do their own extra inspection–and note an average of 140 items on a plane’s punchlist.

Five flight attendants, a couple of mechanical experts and an American test pilot attack the 285-passenger plane. All the doors and panels are opened for inspection. Flight attendants shake each seat violently, grab the headrest and pull it up and jerk the cord on each entertainment controller. They test power ports, USB ports, audio jacks and the entertainment system. They open all tray tables, turn all lights on and off. They recline each seat with knee-knocking force. They flush all the toilets, blow fake smoke into smoke alarms, make sure all prerecorded emergency messages sound when required.

Inside the cockpit, an American test pilot flies the jet to its limits, making sure alarms sound when he increases air speed or slows the plane down to stall speed. He turns it sharply until “bank angle” warnings sound. Each engine gets shut down and restarted in the air. Every backup and emergency system is put into use to make sure it works.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Why do airlines feel the need to make the quality inspections?
  2. What tools that we see in Chapter 6 could Boeing use to improve quality even further?
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