In the past few days Boeing has flatly announced it sees no future for the Hydrogen fuelled aircraft concepts proposed by Airbus any time in the next 15-20 years.
This is desperately disappointing and everyone in the US should be deeply concerned.
In a country where California has now mandated the end to Petrol (Gas as Americans refer to it) powered cars by 2035, where the UK is about to do the same possibly as soon as 2030, and France and Germany seem inevitably to follow, the trend to low or zero emissions is overwhelming, and is completely accepted by the public as verging on the inevitable. Only this past week, the UK revealed that Diesel powered passenger cars had been out sold for the first time by full electrics and hybrid electric vehicles. The trend is overwhelming.
What have cars got to do with it? They show that the public is adopting and adapting and accepting the need for change.
Airbus has committed to make the change in aircraft design and fuel source viable. This isn’t now a matter of if, but when. Government, public opinion, industrial might and research are now being galvanised to produce the aircraft and develop the fuel distribution systems.
For Boeing to declare that it it sees no future in the technology and that its to make no effort whatsoever to pursue it, shows a fundamental lack of comprehension, strategic vision and total lack of leadership. In many ways its what we’ve all come to expect from America in the last four years.
Yet Boeing’s lack of participation offers a sharp contrast and high risk. It risks being totally out of step, and ending up years behind its rival. It undermines the international adoption of zero emissions aircraft and hydrogen infrastructure to support them, and worst of all Boeing has no viable alternative except to carry on burning emission generating fossil fuels for years to come, when it isn’t even necessary.
It will take twenty years to convert from jet fuel to Hydrogen and military and larger aircraft will still need jet fuel for years to come, but long haul isn’t the real problem. The problem lies in the millions of short and medium haul flights that crowd global skies.
Boeing is in danger of handing Airbus a once in a lifetime generational advantage. Is that really where it wants to be? And it isn’t just Airbus and Europe; the Chinese also see the future in hydrogen powered aircraft, and they too face dense pollution problems, curbing aviation emissions is seen as a technological edge, and they want it.
And if that wasn’t enough, Boeing has decided to kill off its in-house training pilots and programme. These pilots were the leading edge of Boeings customer offering, the first to learn new aircraft and the first to train the pilots for airlines who would operate Boeing’s aircraft in the field.
Boeing is now out-sourcing the business to Isle of Man based Cambridge Communications, but there is something disturbing to many that Boeing’s own staff, almost an elite training force, even if just 7 were left, have now gone. It seems like one more way the company has abandoned its quality and service offering to its customers, regardless of the future consequences.
In the last few days Boeing has quietly started the process of moving all of the 787’s production to Charleston, and it will shut down the Everett, Washington state facility building the type. The problem at Everett isn’t quality, it’s that it can’t build the 787-10 there. The result is not one some airlines are happy about. Charleston is notorious for its quality and training issues, which became so bad that one airline, Qatar refused to accept any more aircraft built at the plant, and others more quietly, are said to have told Boeing the same thing.
Will Boeing, now with production cut to just six a month over the next year or more, be able to resolve the production issues? The FAA is investigating several, including the recent discovery of a tail section join stress.
Can we trust that Boeing really has fixed the 737MAX? Recent suggestions that more needs doing undermine certainty.
Boeings past has caught up with it, everyone said it would, and it has. What concerns me now is it seems to have given up on anything but the minimalism of its future, its not looking down the road. It’s barley looking past its own front porch.