Will Boeing recover from the 737 Max crisis?


Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: The Boeing 737 Max was the fastest-selling airliner in Boeing history, selling more than 5,000 aircraft over the past few years. But in April and May, Boeing sold zero. The 737 Max was big, fuel-efficient, and more affordable than other planes. It was a popular plane until a particular sensor became a problem, which eventually led to two fatal crashes in five months, killing everyone on both flights: 346 people total.

Since then, there has been a worldwide grounding of the 737 Max, lawsuits from pilots and from families affected by the crashes, and congressional hearings, and the US Department of Justice has begun a criminal investigation. Boeing took a long time to address the issues, which only seems to have made things worse. With modifications to the plane’s software underway and hopes that it will fly again soon, the question remains: Can Boeing bounce back?

This wasn’t the first time Boeing had a problem with their designs. In the 1960s, the Boeing 727 had issues with its new wings. In the 1990s, the Boeing 737 had issues with its rudder. And in 2013, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner had issues with its battery catching on fire. Boeing has a history of introducing new designs that lack advice from outside experts to ensure safety. And this sensor problem with the 737 Max was no different.

Christine Negroni: How the Boeing 737 Maxes crashed, not one but two occasions, is the result of complicated decisions that were made early on in the process when they were trying to decide what they were going to do with their next narrow-body aircraft in a competitive market with Airbus. And they decided, rather than build a new plane, they would go back and tinker with an old plane.

Narrator: Boeing took the 737 model from the 1960s and added larger engines to create the 737 Max. This new design caused the nose of the plane to point up. Boeing added the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, also known as MCAS, to essentially keep the nose from pointing up.

Negroni: And then, of course, the next problem was that they didn’t tell the pilots or even the airline that this solution existed on the aircraft. What would happen when the MCAS triggered is that the aeroplane would not give control back to the pilots. It would continue to put the aeroplane in a nose-down position. And even when the pilots recognised that maybe there was a problem with this system and tried to turn it off, the forces on the tail were so great that they were unable to physically override the nose-down.

Narrator: Pilots also lacked proper training with the MCAS. They were trained on an iPad instead of a simulator to cut costs and shorten training time. And the two planes that crashed didn’t have the optional angle-of-attack safety feature that could have alerted pilots if the plane was pointing in the wrong direction, and that Boeing charged extra for.

SinĂ©ad Baker: So this increased public mistrust of Boeing is probably a result of both the two fatal crashes, but also how Boeing responded to them. The public is definitely sceptical of Boeing after these two crashes. A recent poll found that 41% of Americans wouldn’t fly on the 737 Max until it was back in service for six months and there were no incidents. It took Boeing almost a month to issue an apology, to say, “I’m sorry” for the first time. And, in the meantime, the US was slow to ground the planes compared to other countries, which maybe made people feel like the US and its safety regulators couldn’t be fully trusted.

Narrator: Experts say that this was a mistake, that it made Boeing look insincere, and that it prioritised profit over people.

Irv Schenkler: Had they opened up, had the CEO or another senior executive spoken to this more general sense of concern, indicating that the company is doing everything it can as soon as it can to find out more and will report back, that could have at least lessened the sense that the company was being evasive.

Narrator: Boeing’s slow response has cost them. The company wasn’t able to sell any 737 Maxes for three months after they were grounded in March.

Baker: Boeing is doing a lot of things at the moment in an attempt to win back people’s trust. They have been apologizing more frequently, they have been offering to fly their CEO first on the plane in a bid to prove that it’s safe, and they have also been organising more sales of the plane to prove just how confident the industry still is in the jet.

Narrator: During the 2019 Paris Air Show, Boeing announced its first buyer since the 737 Max grounding. International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways and other airlines, placed an order for 200 737 Max planes. While the deal would normally carry a list price of $US24 billion, it was likely discounted because of Boeing’s current woes. Though the planes won’t start to be delivered until 2023, the sale gives the company a much-needed vote of confidence.

Schenkler: You can’t manage a crisis, but you can definitely manage how you communicate about it. They need to be able to get affirmation from individuals and groups who are credible and who were perhaps sceptical and who could indicate that the company is righting its wrongs, and that would go, I think, a long way towards ultimately regaining a degree of trust. But, again, it’s a slow process.

Narrator: Boeing may have gained support from certain airlines. But the company also needs to show pilots, flight attendants, regulators, and the general public that it cares, through words and actions, that its planes are safe to fly and that the company can be trusted.

Negroni: Boeing knows that the 737 Max cannot survive another event with this MCAS system. So nobody wants the fix to work more than Boeing. We can rest assured that its desire is there. Is it capable of understanding all the potential faults, all the potential pathways, and all of the required remedies and instituting them is the next question.

Narrator: One thing Boeing should definitely do? Show it is listening to experts and voices from outside the company.

Negroni: I think Boeing needs to be opened to the media. I think Boeing needs to stop shutting out reporters and stop closing down and obstacating when legitimate questions are raised, because I don’t think it does them any good.

Narrator: The crisis has already been pretty expensive for the company, and it’s likely to cost them even more. Baker: In the first quarter of the year, it lost $US1 billion. And airlines around the world now want compensation from Boeing, even those who say that they still completely trust Boeing and the plane. It’s also facing lawsuits from families around the world, some for hundreds of millions of dollars. So, chances are, this whole thing is going to cost Boeing billions.

Narrator: There’s no telling when the 737 Max will be cleared to fly again. Recent reports indicate that the software fix may not even work and that the plane might require a hardware fix, which would be even more expensive and take even more time. But experts do believe that Boeing has a chance to recover from this. The company has to be much more open about what it is doing, while also making sure that there are no more issues with its planes.

Negroni: I think it’s probably 60/40 that Boeing commercial aircraft will recover from this. But I definitely think that they have been shaken up enough to know they have to change their ways.

Narrator: We reached out to Boeing for comment. Here’s what they said:

“There are required standards of training internationally for air transport pilots. Boeing developed its training and materials consistently with those required standards, and followed a process that was absolutely consistent with introducing previous new aeroplanes and derivatives. The process for the flight crews is to ensure they have all the information to safely operate the aeroplane.

We know we fell short in some areas, including in communication with pilots, regulators and customers. We’re going to make improvements and we own that. We also have to re-earn the trust of the flying public. Our focus in the weeks ahead is to work with our regulators and customers to ensure the safe return to service of the MAX.”

What do you think? Would you fly on a 737 Max when airlines start using them again? Let us know in the comments.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published on July 9, 2019.

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