He caused quite a stir last week when he suggested (via sources) that the 787's environmental control system and electrical system could force two more years of delays on the program. I chased his assertions with my sources and found little to support his claims. However, both systems have gone through significant development challenges and revisions, a fact publicly acknowledged in 2008 by then CEO of Hamilton Sundstrand David Hess.
Simply stated "We're all late," Hess said of the entire 787 supply base, including his company's contribution.
His latest column, "Will Boeing's 787 really fly this year?" Cohan attempts to ascertain whether or not the latest schedule is a "head fake" or legitimate path forward. Cohan continues to cite the sources who asserted that the issues with the electrical and environmental control systems would cripple the program, and have added that the flight test campaign would do so as well.
Cohan's "sources familiar with the 787 program" appear to know not of what they speak:
"Sources familiar with the 787 program" who want to talk about flight testing and cannot tell you how many aircraft are in the certification campaign, invite significant skepticism regarding their insight and level of familiarity.
But interviews with sources familiar with the 787 program are not confident that Boeing really has the problem licked. They describe very rigorous testing of five aircraft, with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials keeping close tabs. One source claims that the FAA establishes the requirements for certification and suggests that Boeing will have a tough time satisfying them.
The conditions that Mr. Cohan described are what is commonly known in many aviation circles as "flight test."
And that plan is very rigorous. As he told me, "The plan Boeing has is to use multiple test platforms, I believe it is five airplanes for flight test, and fly aircraft around the clock seven days a week. Yes, they will have to fly the aircraft at all altitudes in all conditions of flight, including such wonderful conditions such as icing, rain, snow, ice, etc."
And that's not all. My source says that Boeing will "have to test the aircraft under specific test parameters and conditions at a great variety of altitudes within the design envelope. All the tests are supervised by FAA personnel and there are FAA pilots assigned to the test program. It's not like the FDA or other government agencies that allow companies to be 'honest,' the FAA guards their own hen house, and they have very big teeth!"
But another source believes that Boeing will not even be bringing in the FAA for 2009's flight tests. He sees a sequence of tests in which Boeing tries to get its test pilots comfortable with the aircraft before bringing in the FAA.
I would also add that if his "sources" are familiar with 787, then I suggest they take the time to understand the context of what it takes to certify a commercial aircraft. Of course the FAA won't be on any of those 2009 tests. The first two months of flight test will be spent getting the aircraft to the point of Type Inspection Authorization. The TIA will bring the aircraft into conformity in preparation for the FAA to begin the certification process. Before this point, the flight test fleet operates with a Part 91 Experimental Type Certificate. Early testing on the 787s will get pilots comfortable with the aircraft, its handling characteristics and make changes as needed. Boeing starts the flight tests for its own learning purposes before the FAA comes in and begins certification. There is simply no scandal here.
Now, let's talk about the seven day a week claim. Yes, that is Boeing's plan. However, "flying seven days a week" doesn't mean a Southwest-style 20 minute turn around. The 24-hour clock is a methodological change in how Boeing does flight test and is very ambitious, but frequently misrepresented. Here's an excerpt from the 787 feature I authored before the Paris Air Show:
BOEING CLOCKS IN FOR BUSY DAY
The underpinning of Boeing's 787 testing is based on efficient use of the 24h clock, ensuring that no part of the day is wasted. Three shifts support the aircraft.
Boeing envisages a day beginning at 06:00 with the arrival of the test crew, followed by a pre-flight briefing 30min later.
At 07:00, each of the six flight-test aircraft will be released back to the flight-test crew after undergoing maintenance or preparations overnight, beginning the 8h testing block. By 08:00, the 90min pre-flight briefings will be wrapping up and the aircraft will be in the sky by 09:00 for a typical 5h testing block. By 14:00, the aircraft will head back to base for a touchdown at 15:00, followed by 2h of post-test debrief.
After touchdown, the aircraft will be handed over for 16h of overnight maintenance and preparation by the second and third shifts, culminating in the aircraft's 07:00 release the following day, for the process to begin again. Boeing then runs preliminary analyses of the data gathered during the day, running from 17:00 to 21:00.
Boeing's Production Integration Center at the company's Everett facility will also support the Seattle flight-test centre during the overnight schedule by co-ordinating maintenance routines overnight to ensure the aircraft are flying again by the next morning, says Bob Noble, vice-president of 787 supplier management.