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Monday, July 1, 2013

Editor's Note: Reader Mailbag

Emily Feliz

I love reader feedback — good and bad. I see the amount of correspondence I get from readers as a direct correlation to the magazine’s ability to hit the right notes/tones in the industry and touching upon the issues that matter most to our readership. Based on that, our June issue hit upon several key issues in the industry, given that I have received more feedback on this issue than I have in the seven years I’ve been with the magazine.

One of the biggest aviation news stories of the year has been the worldwide grounding of the 787 Dreamliner fleet due to the lithium-ion battery malfunction. The aircraft debuted with such fanfare and encountered more than its share of bad press on its way to its first delivery. And the costs of grounding the aircraft and subsequent fixes to the in-service 787s are in the billions of dollars. So it’s not surprising that Walter Shawlee 2’s System Design column (“Fixing the 787’s Batteries,” pg. 34), which dove head-first into a discussion of the lithium-ion battery failure and redesigned battery package would get readers taking to their computers to share their thoughts. (You can access this and all of Walter’s columns at www.aviationtoday.com/shawlee.) “This event has a lot of lessons for everyone involved, one of which is certainly that new and unproven is not always the ideal strategy when high reliability is the first and foremost system requirement. The 787 was late for delivery because a lot of very advanced changes and technology were brought together in one airframe, which brings with it unavoidable uncertainty, re-design and thus delays and re-designs inevitably accumulate,” Shawlee writes.

The aircraft is cutting edge in many ways, with its composite design and advanced avionics, but some readers suggest perhaps the use of lithium-ion batteries, as opposed to more traditional Nickel-Cadmium batteries, was more costly than ground-breaking.

Says one reader, “I have followed this problem closely since it occurred and I am still absolutely amazed at the lack of common sense in dealing with an issue that is potentially so damaging. The thought of a long overwater flight with these batteries under the floor gives me the ‘chills’ and I would never permit a friend or family member to fly on this aircraft with its current battery configuration.”

This is perhaps an unfair point, in my opinion. I believe Boeing and FAA, operating with an abundance of caution, would not allow these planes to fly without properly inspecting the new battery and wiring system. Keep in mind, no one was hurt or injured during any of these incidents.

Says another reader: “After 35 years of dealing with test equipment for aircraft batteries and also testing aircraft Nickel-Cadmium batteries, I am at a loss to understand how Boeing engineers caved in and went with Lithium, a risky technology, as opposed to using the rugged and well-known Nickel-Cadmium technology.”

Fair enough, but someone has to be the one to push the technology envelope because that’s how this industry will evolve. Again, just my two cents.

Another reader took issue with the June Editor’s Note (“Furloughed,” pg. 4), saying I didn’t go far enough to explain the impact politics (i.e. sequestration) are having on the operation of the government. (Ed. note: This is a technology magazine and there are writers and editors far more well versed than me on the politics of the situation. I was just “arm-chair quarterbacking” attempting to look at NextGen’s new political reality through the lens of sequestration.)

“The content and essence of your editorial outlines an important problem, but the real problem is 10 times worse, for our industry and the country itself. The ‘sequestration’ was just the opening salvo of the general breakdown of the federal government itself,” said the reader. Generally, I’ve tried to use this space as a way to go beyond the news and take a different perspective on a topic.

So keep the feedback coming! I love to hear from you. Feel free to email (efeliz@accessintel.com), call (301-354-1820), Tweet (@EmilyFeliz1) or find me on LinkedIn. I welcome “Letters to the Editor” as well.

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