Airbus CEO Admits Mistakes – Good For Him

The first A380 for Malaysia Airlines, landing at Toulouse earlier this month

It seems one phrase that has disappeared from most CEO’s lexicons is ‘We made a mistake’.

Instead, they take extended training from PR and image consultants on ‘crisis management’ which all too often involves how to avoid and shirk responsibility – how to appear sympathetic to the viewing audience and to customers, without accepting liability.

So it is wonderful to read the statements of Tom Enders, CEO of Airbus, about the wing cracking problems on their new A380 super-jumbos.  He is quoted in this article as saying :

This is something that wasn’t on our radar screen.  We thought we understood the properties of the materials and the interface between carbon fiber and metal and found out the wrong way we didn’t know everything.

The A380 has some carbon fiber/composite components, albeit not as much as the A350 will have, and not as much as the 787 does have.

In admitting to the unexpected nature of the problems, and their complexity, Enders is mirroring concerns expressed here and elsewhere about the new technology being so aggressively incorporated into new planes, based on computer-modeling projections rather than real world testing.

The limitation of computer modeling is that it can only predict events that it has been programmed to predict.  This is debatably acceptable when dealing with a product about which the computer programmer knows everything (as if…..) but when dealing with new technology that may have unexpected properties and responses that by their very nature can’t be built into the computerized modeling function, it becomes massively less useful.

It is good to see such a frank admission of error by Airbus.  Meanwhile, Boeing continues to assure us there are no reasons for concern with its now finally flying 787.  Let’s hope they’re correct.

In other A380 news, Airbus announced two new versions of the plane – one with a longer range/payload capability, the other with a much quieter noise profile that could potentially allow it to operate at curfewed airports during their current quiet/curfew hours.  This includes airports such as chronically congested Heathrow.  See a slightly tangential discussion of such things here.

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