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Rachael Plant

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Jun 6, 2024

7 minute read

Fleet Management Blog

How Boeing’s Woes could Affect Aviation Fleets

Boeing’s slip from manufacturing top quality aircraft to grounded ones can wreak havoc on an aviation fleet’s bottom line. The increased rerouting due to mechanical failures means added burden on the ground fleet and technicians, so we’re looking at different ways plane failures affect aviation fleets and how they can adapt.

How Boeing’s Woes could Affect Aviation Fleets
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Woof, is Boeing having a heck of a time right now. And it only seems to be getting worse. After signing a deferred prosecution agreement in 2021 following the deadly Max crashes in 2018 and 2019 that claimed a total of 346 lives, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) may finally be seeking criminal prosecution against the manufacturer. The crashes were reportedly caused in part by an automated flight control system on the planes, forcing the grounding of Max jets until the system and other safety issues were addressed.

Two more recent events, however, could possibly be attributed to the system. On May 21, a Boeing 777 hit turbulence and promptly dropped 6,000 feet, killing one, injuring dozens and leaving 20 people in intensive care. While some reports claim severe turbulence is a symptom of climate change, the incident happened just two months after a similar one, during which a Boeing 787 Dreamliner flying from Sydney to Auckland rapidly dropped altitude due to a mid-air technical issue, injuring 50 people. New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has said it will seize the craft’s black box as part of its investigation into the incident, the results of which could shed more light on these sudden altitude plummets.

Company Shake-up

Even before these events, major changes to Boeing’s top brass were made. “Boeing announced that Ed Clark, who had been with the company for nearly 18 years and led the 737 program since early 2021, was leaving immediately. Clark oversaw the factory in Renton, Washington, where final assembly took place on the Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 involved in [January’s] accident,” according to West Hawaii Today. Boeing CEO David Calhoun also stepped down. “Calhoun was a Boeing director when he became CEO in January 2020, replacing Dennis Muilenburg, who was fired in the aftermath of the Max crashes,” according to The Orange County Register.

The Boeing board shake-up came after a series of incidents — including the aforementioned Alaska Airlines emergency door blowout — such as engine trouble (including failures, fires and/or explosions) on multiple craft, cracked windshields on multiple craft, wheel loss during taxiing, wheel loss upon take off and wing damage. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a Boeing problem, as the manufacturer’s suppliers are undergoing scrutiny similar to that which Boeing now finds itself under.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has “conducted a six-week audit of Boeing and its suppliers, Spirit AeroSystems, which produces the fuselage of the 737 Max 9. According to a presentation reviewed by the New York Times, Boeing and Spirit failed to comply with quality-control requirements,” according to The Dispatch. “Of the 89 product audits, a type of FAA review focusing specifically on parts of the production process, Boeing passed 56 and failed 33. The presentation mentions 97 incidents of ‘alleged non-compliance.’ Of the 13 product audits conducted on Spirit AeroSystems, only six received passing grades.”

In the wake of all of this, Spirit AeroSystems has filed a lawsuit to block a Texas safety probe and announced it would be laying off 400-450 employees due to high inventory volumes and low demand.

Both Boeing and European competitor, Airbus, have shown interest in buying the supplier.

Production and Delivery Challenges

The aviation industry is up against a series of challenges, including supply chain issues and delayed aircraft deliveries. Boeing in particular is experiencing reduced orders, even as it tries — so far unsuccessfully — to fill backlogged orders for both commercial and military clients.

Supply Chain and Demand

Despite the reduction of aircraft orders during the pandemic times, both manufacturers and parts suppliers are having issues getting what they need in order to complete builds — preferably safely.

Both United and Delta made large orders for Boeing craft in 2022. “Importantly for Boeing, with this order, United becomes the second of the U.S. Big Three airlines to commit to operating an all-Boeing widebody fleet. American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) is the other,” according to Jonathan Root, senior vice president for Moody’s Investors Service. “Boeing’s 787 backlog is currently about 420 aircraft. The United order increases this backlog by almost 25 percent. The MAX order adds to the current MAX backlog of about 3,600 aircraft.”

These delivery delays have rippling economic effects within the industry and beyond. Per a report from CNN, "Southwest and United [in March] said they expect Boeing to ship them fewer planes than they planned on receiving, so they’ll hire fewer pilots." The same article discusses the financial impacts for consumers, with Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide, explaining that “We have already seen airfares jump the last few months and it was up 3.6% in February.”

In addition to fare increases, travel access in the U.S. has the potential to become more difficult or, perhaps, less frequent. “Boeing’s production alone represents a significant part of America’s economy. But the country – and the world – relies on its planes for travel, business, deliveries and jobs,” according to KRDO 13. “Delays in deliveries, which Boeing and several airlines expect as it undergoes an intensive federal investigation of its manufacturing processes, could reduce the number of planes available to Americans and cut into all those economy-boosting benefits it normally provides.”

Despite being unable to keep up with its production plan, Boeing is urging suppliers to continue shipping parts.

Max Demand Drops, Airbus Pulls Ahead

Amidst Boeing’s trouble, Airbus has leap-frogged ahead in terms of sales and deliveries. “The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has significantly more orders and deliveries of commercial aircraft in the first quarter of 2024 than its competitor Boeing. In addition, there are order cancellations from the American aircraft manufacturer,” according to ZDFheute. “Airbus does not currently have these problems. On the contrary. For 2023, the European manufacturer reported a new record with 2,100 orders for civil aircraft. The previous record was 1,503 orders - that was over ten years ago.”

As interest in Airbus continues gaining altitude — both from an industry and passenger preference standpoint — aviation fleets comprised largely of Boeings may see a reduction in patronage. And as orders for Airbus aircraft increase, so does the lead time.

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Repercussions for Aviation Fleets

What these troubles boil down to is increased wear and tear on both the fleet and technicians. Having to cancel or reroute flights due to mechanical or component failure contributes to usage imbalances and lost business and, chances are, these failures could have been caught early. Instead, you’re looking at unscheduled downtime and added burden on the shop.

Aviation fleets can use fleet management software (FMS) to create digital aircraft inspections appropriate for the business and flight types and in accordance with FAA guidelines. Failed inspection items alert specified stakeholders in real-time so the issue can be assigned a prioritization level and aircraft maintenance can be scheduled.

Aviation fleet management can cover more than aircraft, however. Ground support equipment and other assets, from belt loaders and luggage tugs to transportation vehicles, can be negatively impacted by flight disruptions due to increased workloads. This can cause vehicles and equipment components to wear down faster, meaning more downtime. Using FMS, fleets can track usage across asset types, groups and locations and monitor asset health, including asset service histories, failed inspection items and unscheduled downtime.

With Boeing’s current issues disrupting the aviation industry — and not in a good way — the ability to track fleet maintenance needs and operating costs can be a boon. Organizations can use FMS to consolidate fleet and other business data for more robust insights and operational transparency, allowing for quick visibility into high-cost issues. With better control over fleet costs — including the cost of disruptions — aviation fleet managers can better prepare for these issues and adopt a strategic reaction plan.

The dashboard provides a quick reference for the services that are due as well as real-time spending and outstanding issues. This allows me to focus my oversight more effectively where and when needed. Greg Lehmann, Sr., Vehicle and Group Support Equipment Manager, Atlas Air

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About the Author

Rachael Plant

Rachael Plant

Senior Content Marketing Specialist

Rachael Plant is a Content Marketing Specialist at Fleetio whose automotive background spans from managing auto parts inventories to overseeing fleet-specific editorial in national trade publications. She resides deep in the middle-of-nowhere Alabama with her two dogs and, thankfully, reliable GPS.

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