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商业 - 航空和运输

波音梦想飞机注定有此一劫

Shelley DuBois 2013年01月24日

波音787梦想飞机虽然出现了一系列故障和推迟,但这些似乎是如今的飞机制造业推出新机型的道路上必经的磨难。而且,实事求是地讲,目前或许没有其他公司能做得比它更好。

    这里不是莱特兄弟试飞第一架飞机的俄亥俄州小鹰镇。任何掌握尖端飞机制造技术的制造商需要的远远不只是两颗聪明的脑瓜和一架滑翔机那么简单。以波音最新的787梦想飞机为例:要想让这样一架飞机升空,波音必须与政府监管机构以及900多家承包商通力合作才行。这意味着上吨重量的活动部件。显然,并不是所有零部件都是合格的。梦想飞机在2011年完成首次商业飞行,比原定日期晚了将近三年。由于近期波音787梦想飞机遭遇了一系列故障,而其中大部分很可能电路和电池组有关。因此今年1月16日,美国联邦航空管理局(FAA)暂停了正在美国投入使用的6架波音787梦想飞机的运营,直到调查人员确认它们的安全性之后才能重新服役。而可能导致故障的电路和电池问题对于民航业来说都是新问题。

    媒体对于波音787的故障丝毫不留情面,新闻标题上充斥着“梦想”变“噩梦”这样的字眼。但787客机的问题究竟反映的是波音的管理失误,抑或它们只是研发一款现代客机难以避免的成本之一?

    目前,波音和空客(Airbus)是唯一有能力生产大型高科技民用飞机的两家公司。两家公司分别在研发生产一些新型号的飞机,而且各有不同的专攻重点。波音公司相信,市场需要像787梦想飞机这样的快速、轻型客机。而空客则相信市场想购买大型飞机——比如它的空客A350XWB客机最多可安装440个座位。空客A350家族预计将在2014年投放市场,尽管已知下线时间将会延迟。

    弗吉尼亚大学达顿商学院(University of Virginia's Darden School of Business)教授劳尔•卡奥说:“这是一项庞大复杂的项目。就像我们重新装修厨房时一样,它们很可能超出原定的时间和预算。”

    波音787梦想飞机的部分动力来自一块锂离子电池,它的电力系统和任何其它民航客机都不一样。同时它的机身是用复合材料制成的,比市场上其它机型的材料要轻。这些特点使梦想飞机的油耗要比同等尺寸的民航客机节省15%到20%。

    这些卖点同时也为波音带来了重大的技术挑战,甚至就连波音这个拥有570亿美元市值的庞大企业也很难凭借一己之力去解决。与洛克希德-马丁(Lockheed Martin)等航空公司相比,波音自造零件所占的比重更大。即便这样,波音也把787梦想飞机70%的生产工作外包了出去。

    This ain't Kitty Hawk. Any aircraft creator on the cutting edge of technology needs much more than two brilliant men and a glider. Take Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner plane: Boeing had to work in concert with government regulators and more than 900 subcontractors to get this project off the ground. That is a ton of moving parts.

    Not all of those parts were up to snuff, apparently. The Dreamliner made its commercial debut in 2011, nearly three years behind schedule. On January 16, the FAA grounded the line's six active planes operating in the U.S. until investigators say they're safe to fly. The planes were grounded following a series of issues most likely related to defects in the model's electrical wiring and battery packs, both of which are spanking new to commercial aviation.

    The press has been rough, having fun with dream-to-nightmare headlines. But do the Dreamliner's problems reflect a management misstep at Boeing (BA), or are they simply the cost of building a modern plane?

    Boeing and Airbus are the only companies with the capabilities to build large, high-tech commercial planes. Each company has new models in the works, and each focuses on a different feature. Boeing made a bet that the market would want quick, light planes like the Dreamliner. Airbus made a bet that buyers would want big planes – its new aircraft, the A350 XWB can be configured to have up to 440 seats. The A350 family is set to hit the market in 2014, although it has faced rollout delays.

    "They're just massively complex projects," says Raul Chao, a professor at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. "That means that, just like when you're remodeling your kitchen, they will go over budget and over time."

    The Dreamliner is powered, in part, by a lithium-ion battery, and its electrical system is unlike any other commercial aircraft. It is also built with composite materials, which are lighter than those used in other planes on the market. All these features enable the Dreamliner to burn about 15-20% less fuel than a commercial craft of comparable size.

    Those bells and whistles created a massive technical challenge beyond what even a company like Boeing, with a $57 billion market cap, can address on its own. Boeing, which builds more of its planes' own parts than other aerospace companies such as Lockheed Martin (LMT), outsourced 70% of the construction of the 787.

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