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  D.F.'s Column Archive

July 19, 2006

A Jumbo Jet of a Labor Problem for France


The A-380 is a huge super-jumbo passenger jet. It can seat 555 people, which is probably enough to successfully invade the country in which the A-380 is made.


That would be France. You will of course remember France, where when last we visited, riots were occurring because someone had suggested making it legal to fire someone over 26. This prompted a few people to wonder if the French labor force had any incentive whatsoever to perform its work with even the slightest degree of quality.

Guess not, at least if you can tell anything from EADS, which makes the A-380 and is supposed to make another 2,000 planes over the next few years. It seems that quite a few of the A-380s were, uh, not made quite correctly. You can still seat your 555 people, but the electrical system to the cabin doesn’t seem to work, so don’t count on any lights, air conditioning, French art films . . .


Typically, the French management blamed the Germans, pointing out that the plant where the cabin’s electrical system was made is in Hamburg. But they admitted that the problems ran far deeper – deep enough, in fact, that they are delaying delivery of numerous models, and make no promises that they can avoid future delays.


"We have a problem finding enough qualified personnel, and we have more than 2,000 planes on order for the next few years," said EADS Chairman Thomas Enders.


All right. Wait just a cotton-picking, beret-sporting minute here. Unemployment throughout Europe is more than 10 percent. You mean to tell me these poor European victims of George W. Bush’s economic policies aren’t qualified to build your planes?


How can this be? EADS had better figure it out soon, because those 2,000 planes they are supposed to manufacture and deliver aren’t going to show up any time soon if they can’t find anyone to make them. The good news, of course, is that not all the planes that need to be made are the troubled A-380s. Some are troubled A-350s, which are getting their collective tailwinds kicked in the competition with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, prompting EADS to go back to the drawing board – literally – for a redesign.


That’s assuming EADS has any qualified designers on staff. We know they have one less co-chairman, because the most recent holder of that position – one Noel Foregard – became the fall guy when the problems with the A-380 were discovered. Of course, Mr. Foregard had foresight – at least enough to exercise his stock options before the A-380 glitches became public. As a result, he is now being investigated by AMF, which looks into French securities violations. (How are we supposed to take a country seriously when its stock market is run by the people who make bowling pin picker-uppers?)


Now, mistakes happen in production. Would it really be fair to stereotype the entire republic of France as a bunch of slackers, just because some planes weren’t built properly?


It’s a coin toss, but it would definitely be fun to do so, thus the tie is broken. So let’s review.


In France, if you are older than 26 and you get a job and manage to hold it for a year, you cannot be fired. This is the law. All attempts to change it will result in riots – and no one wants to face an angry French mob! – so this will be the law for the foreseeable future.


If you live in a country that offers guaranteed employment for life for everyone – not just for public school teachers like in America – there is no reason for you to improve or develop your skills, unless you do so out of a sense of self-worth and an inherent belief in the pursuit of excellence in all things. And you’re French, so let’s not be ridiculous.


Suddenly, a big French company gets a contract to make 2,000 big, complicated planes! It just needs to find some people who might have the necessary skills to build them, but said skills involve a tad more than the ability to drag yourself out of bed two or three days a week.


But if that’s all you need to keep a job, and the law says so, guess what? Flickering lights in the cabin, co-chairman under investigation, more delivery delays likely.


But there is good news. Apparently you can’t invade France with an A-380 after all. Long live le republique!


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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This is Column # DFK37.  Request permission to publish here.